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Strep test important during pregnancy (4/13/98)

Catherine Duncanís first child was saved at birth by a very simple test, a test not enough expectant mothers know about. The test is for group b streptococcus (GBS), a type of bacteria that is found in the vagina and/or lower intestine of 10-35 percent of all healthy women.

"I had no idea I carried the group b strep, let alone had any idea that my first son was in any danger until my doctor performed a simple swab test in my 8th month of pregnancy," says Duncan. "Since I tested positive for GBS, I had intravaneous antibiotics during my delivery, preventing the baby from getting GBS disease."

About 8,000 babies in the United Sates get serious GBS disease each year and about 800 of these babies die from it. And up to 20 percent of the babies who survive GBS - related meningitis (inflammation of the membranes of the brain or spinal cord) are left permanently handicapped.

Microbiologist Stephen Mattingly, Ph D, professor, has been studying GBS for several years. "This is preventable but you have to be on the lookout for it and the majority of expectant mothers along with obstetricians do not know about GBS," says Dr. Mattingly.

"There are two things we want to accomplish with my research, one - to develop a specific test to identify the high virulence clone of the bacteria, and two - to find a way to prevent transmission from mother to baby," says Dr. Mattingly. "Weíre pretty close to having a specific test for the highly virulent form of GBS; it should be available within a year."

Normally, babies are exposed to group b strep during labor and delivery. They may also be exposed once the motherís water breaks. Babies can come in contact with GBS if the bacteria moves upward from the motherís vagina into the uterus. They may also be exposed while passing through the birth canal. Babies become infected when they swallow or inhale the bacteria.

Babies who develop early onset disease usually have one or more of the following symptoms: problems with temperature regulation, grunting sounds, fever, seizures, breathing problems, unusual change in behavior, stiffness or extreme limpness.

There is also the possibility that GBS disease may also develop in babies one week to several months after birth. This is called late onset disease. Meningitis is more common with late onset GBS disease. The following symptoms are related to late onset GBS disease: stiffness, limpness, inconsolable screaming, fever or refusal to feed.

Women like Catherine who have tested positive for GBS can have more babies. In fact, Catherine is expecting her second child and she now knows the importance of making sure her obstetrician gives her antibiotics during labor and delivery.

The test for GBS disease should be given late in pregnancy, around 35 to 37 weeks of gestation.

Contact: Myong Covert (210) 567-2570