Haywards Heath parents raise awareness of Group B Strep on anniversary of baby son’s death

This year marks 23 years since Haywards Heath parents Jane and Robert Plumb tragically lost their baby son to Group B Strep bacteria.

Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies in the UK, causing sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis.

Jane and Robert Plumb with their son Oliver and baby Theo

Jane and Robert Plumb with their son Oliver and baby Theo

Each week in the UK, one baby dies and another is left with a long-term disability as a result of the infection.

Jane and Robert’s son Theo was born at just 25 weeks on March 19, 1996. He was very unwell, but at this point the couple had never heard of the words Group B Strep.

He was rushed to the nearest Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Brighton, but at just 17 and a half hours old, he tragically died.

As the couple were leaving the hospital the neonatologist took them to one side and said that she thought Theo had died from the infection. This led them to do research and they managed to track down a microbiologist who had recently given a talk about it.

Jane Plumb MBE

Jane Plumb MBE

The couple discovered that, while Theo’s death was probably not preventable, most Group B Strep infections in newborn babies were, and with help from the microbiologist they set up the charity Group B Strep Support.

On Tuesday, March 19, it marked 23 years since Theo’s birth, and since then charity has seen huge improvements in prevention and awareness.

But there is still a way to go, it says, with more expectant parents to tell about the infection, more heartbroken families to support, and more campaigning for change.

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A spokesman for the charity said: “March 19, marked 23 years since Theo Plumb’s birth, and his tragic death 17 and a half hours later from a Group B Strep infection.

“Six months to the day after this, Theo’s parents, local Haywards Heath residents’, Jane Plumb MBE and Robert Plumb, set up the Group B Strep Support Charity which supports families affected by Group B Strep, educates health professionals and the public about Group B Strep, and supports research into better understanding of Group B Strep infection.”

The UK does not routinely test for Group B Strep, the charity says, a common bacterium unknowingly carried by approximately 25 per cent of pregnant women without symptoms or side-effects, unlike many developed countries, including Germany France, Spain, where all mothers-to-be are tested.

The bacteria can be passed unknowingly from a mother to her baby around birth, says the charity.

The first time many parents hear about it is when their baby is sick in hospital with meningitis, sepsis or pneumonia.

Despite its potential severity, new and expectant mothers are often not informed about it as part of routine care, which the Group B Strep Support charity says is working to change.

Most Group B Strep infections in newborn babies can be prevented by testing the mother late in pregnancy and providing intravenous antibiotics (usually penicillin) during labour to those who test positive, according to the charity. This reduces the risk of a baby developing a Group B Strep infection by up to 90 per cent, it says.

The simple, swab test would cost the NHS just £11 and costs from £35 privately, the charity added.

To find out more about the charity’s work, visit https://gbss.org.uk.