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Group B streptococcal septicemia of the newborn

  • Definition

    Group B streptococcal septicemia is a severe bacterial infection that affects newborn infants.

    See also: Neonatal sepsis

    Alternative Names

    Group B strep; GBS

    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    The term "septicemia" refers to an infection in the bloodstream that may travel to different body organs. Group B streptococcal septicemia is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus agalactiae, which is commonly called "group B strep" or GBS. A newborn with septicemia is very sick.

    GBS is commonly found in adults and older children, where it does not usually cause infection. There are two ways in which it may be passed to a newborn baby:

    • The infant can become infected as he or she passes through the birth canal. In this case, babies become ill between birth and 6 days of life (most often in the first 24 hours). This is called "early-onset" GBS disease.
    • The infant may also become infected after delivery by coming into contact with people who carry the GBS germ. In this case symptoms appear later, when the baby is 7 days to 3 months or more old. This is called "late-onset" GBS disease.

    GBS now occurs less often, because methods to screen and treat pregnant women at risk are now being used.

    The following increase an infant's risk for group B streptococcal septicemia:

    • History of giving birth to a baby with GBS sepsis
    • Mother who has a fever (over 100.4 degrees F) during labor
    • Mother who has group B streptococcus in her gastrointestinal, reproductive, or urinary tract
    • Prematurity
    • Rupture of membranes ("water breaks") more than 18 hours before baby is delivered
    • Use of intrauterine fetal monitoring ("scalp lead") during labor