Screening would save babies’ lives say doctors

Jane Plumb from B Strep Support receives New Years honour. photo by Steve Robards
Jane Plumb from B Strep Support receives New Years honour. photo by Steve Robards

Some of the most distinguished doctors in the UK have called on the Government to help reduce infant deaths and disability by introducing routine screening for the Group B Streptococcus bacteria (GBS) in pregnant women.

The group, which includes leading neonatal, obstetric and gynaecology consultants has joined charity leaders and health professionals in writing to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and asking for all women to be screened in late pregnancy.

Their letter states: “Group B Streptococcus is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies.

“It is a normally harmless bacteria carried by around 21 per cent of the population and most babies are not affected by it. However, when it does cause infections, these can be devastating.”

Their letter comes at a crucial time because the UK National Screening Committee is undertaking a review of GBS screening for all pregnant women and its recommendations will be considered by health ministers.

Approximately 340 babies per year develop GBS infection within their first six days of life. Of those infected, one in ten will die of blood poisoning, pneumonia or meningitis, while around one in five will be permanently affected by cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness or serious learning difficulties.

Jane Plumb MBE from Lindfield, who lost her baby son Theo to GBS and founded a charity, Group B Strep Support, to raise awareness, said: “GBS infection is increasing in the UK. From 2003-2010 the number of all newborn babies reported to have had proven GBS infection in England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose by 32 per cent.

Jane, who is a signatory to the letter, added: “We believe testing for GBS carriage should be offered to all women late in pregnancy and, where tests are positive, suitable antibiotics should be offered during labour to reduce the risk of GBS infection in the baby.”

Among the letter’s signatories are: Ruth Bender-Atik, director of the Miscarriage Association; Christopher Head, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation; Edwin Chandraharan, clinical director for women’s services in London; Philip Steer, Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics, Imperial College, London and Mid Sussex GPs Robert Harvey, Elizabeth Jenkins and Steve Alden.