Group B streptococcus (GBS) can cause serious illness or death in a newborn. You might not have heard of this disease. But if you are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, find out how a simple screening test and antibiotic treatment can protect you and your baby.

Group B strep is a bacterium that is commonly found in vaginal and/or rectal areas. GBS can sometimes cause illness in newborn babies, pregnant women, elderly adults, and adults with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, liver disease, and cancer.

This infection is generally easy to treat in adults. But, for newborn babies, it can lead to life-threatening infections, such as sepsis (blood infection) and, rarely, meningitis (infection of the fluid and lining surrounding the brain). Babies who have had meningitis can develop long-term problems, such as hearing and/or vision loss or learning disabilities, and they can even die if the infection is left untreated.

Newborn babies become infected with GBS in three ways:

  • Before birth—Bacteria in the vagina can spread up the birth canal into the uterus and infect the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby. The baby becomes infected by inhaling the infected fluid into the lungs.
  • During birth—The baby can come in contact with the bacteria in the birth canal.
  • After birth—The baby can come in contact with the bacteria through close physical contact with the mother.

Fortunately, most babies who are exposed to the bacteria will not become infected.