Group B strep (GBS) is a type of Streptococcus bacteria that can cause blood infections (sepsis), lung infections (pneumonia) and brain and spinal cord infections (meningitis), primarily in infants but also less frequently in adults. Because of the risk of pregnant mothers giving the infection to their babies during childbirth, the Vermont Department of Health recommends that all women be tested for group B strep when they are 35 to 37 weeks pregnant.
GBS is a common type of bacteria often found in the vagina and rectum of healthy women of all races and ethnicities. About one out of four women in the United States carry this type of bacteria. These bacteria can come and go naturally in the body. Babies can get infected with group B strep directly from their mothers and have symptoms such as fever, difficulty breathing, irritability, lethargy (sleepiness and lack of energy), and difficulty feeding. Sometimes babies who get meningitis from group B strep have long term problems such as deafness or developmental disabilities. Group B strep can be fatal if it is not treated.
Although many pregnant women carry the bacteria, they will often not have any symptoms or feel sick. To help prevent the spread of group B strep, women at weeks 35 to 37 of pregnancy should get a simple and painless test for the bacteria where their healthcare provider swabs the vagina and rectum. Due to the routine testing of pregnant women in the state, Vermont averages fewer than one infected newborn per year.