Screening pregnant women for deadly infection can slash risk to babies

Pregnant women should be screened, experts say Photo: Mirror

Screening pregnant women for a deadly infection can dramatically cut the risk to babies, research has shown.

An NHS study found an 83% drop in Group B Strep, a severe bacterial infection which can kill newborns and which caused the death last year of day-old Pippa Griffiths in Shrewsbury.

The study of more than 6,000 women was carried out by London North West Healthcare NHS Trust. Those with GBS took antibiotics during labour.

Study leader Dr Gopal Rao said: “It had an even greater effect than we expected.”

The National Screening Committee last month rejected GBS screening saying there was “insufficient evidence” of its benefit.

The NHS does not currently recommend screening for GBS, but women living in other countries - including the US, Canada, France, Germany and Slovenia - are routinely offered a test.

GBS is the most common cause of meningitis in babies under three months and can also cause septicaemia and pneumonia.

Around one in five pregnant women in the UK carries GBS in their digestive system or their vagina and some babies become infected during birth.

Symptoms of GBS in babies include being floppy and unresponsive, not feeding well, grunting, having a high or low temperature, and fast or slow breathing or heart rate.

In March, Public Health England told BBC Radio 5 live Investigates that the number of babies being made ill by GBS has increased by 12% between 2011 and 2015.

According to the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit, 518 newborn babies in the UK and Ireland were made ill as a result of the bacteria, 27 died and dozens more were left with disabilities in the year to April 2015.

Jane Plumb, chief executive of Group B Strep Support, said: "These findings raise questions about the validity of the UK National Screening Committee's recommendations last month against introducing routine screening of pregnant women for Group B Strep.

"These results were not included in the review, and the UK NSC should re-examine their recommendation in light of this new evidence."

Dr Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK National Screening Committee, said: "At the moment there is no test that can distinguish between women whose babies would be affected by GBS at birth and those who would not.

"This means that screening for GBS in pregnancy would lead to many thousands of women receiving antibiotics in labour when there is no benefit for them or their babies and the harms this may cause are unknown."

 


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