Around one in five pregnant women carry the bacteria in the gut or vagina. In most cases this will not cause harm to the mother or the baby. Most mothers who carry GBS bacteria during pregnancy will give birth to healthy babies, but in some cases the bacteria can pass to the baby during labour causing the child to become unwell. There is also a small risk of GBS bacteria causing babies to be born prematurely or causing babies to be stillborn, if the baby becomes infected with the bacteria in the womb.
Most babies that come into contact with GBS bacteria during birth will not become unwell. But some do become very ill and it’s vital they are treated with antibiotics as soon as possible.
The majority of infants that do become very poorly with a GBS infection recover fully with treatment. But, for some, it can cause life-threatening infections, like meningitis or sepsis, and sadly, even death.
There are two types of GBS infection in babies. They are:
Early onset GBS disease
Approximately 60 - 70% of GBS infections are early onset. This is when GBS infection occurs within the first six days of life, when the baby is likely to have caught the bacteria from the birth canal during labour. It causes breathing difficulties and mainly results in sepsis and septicaemia.
Late onset GBS disease
This is when GBS infection occurs in babies in the first seven to 90 days of life. It more commonly results in meningitis and causes fever, breathing difficulty, feeding problems and fits.