So following a tweet I saw from @Netmums regarding the £10 test that could prevent a newborn’s death I felt compelled to write something about this in order to help raise the profile of Group B Streptococcus, which is the biggest killer of newborn babies in Britain.
Shockingly around a third of women carry the bacteria that causes Group B Streptococcus. It is believed to be contracted through eating beef or fish, though skin-to-skin transmission is more likely. Women carrying Group B often don’t have any symptoms so never know they are carrying it. It is largely harmless to adults, but because baby’s have immature immune systems, the bug’s effect on them can be devastating. It is said one in 300 exposed to it will develop the infection and every year 30 newborns will die as a result and another 200 can be left disabled. Spotting it early and treatment with antibiotics during labour or in the first few hours after childbirth can save lives.
Group B strep as it is known, is a well-known risk for newborn babies and most healthcare professionals are aware of it, so antibiotics are often given as a precaution when, for example, a mother’s waters break more than 18 hours before delivery or if she develops a fever during labour. However if none of the above happens a mother may never know she is carrying it until it is too late and here in the UK we are one of only a few countries who don’t routinely screen for it.
A Daily Mail article published recently and quoted by Netmums has cited that previously, the UK National Screening Committee has ruled against rolling out a national screening programme on the grounds that the test used by the NHS is unreliable and could lead to pregnant women being given antibiotics unnecessarily. The concern is that antibiotics interfere with the development of a healthy baby’s immune system, increasing the risk of asthma and other allergies. However, the committee is due to review the decision this year and campaigners hope the availability of a new, more sensitive test for the bacterium will make them change their minds.
“The current NHS test picks up around half of carriers; the new Enriched Culture Medium (ECM) test has a 90 per cent accuracy rate”, says Jane Plumb, of charity Group B Strep Support. At present, the ECM test is only available privately for £35 — it’s estimated it would cost the NHS just £10.63 per pregnant woman.
“Since introducing national screening with these more sensitive tests, the U.S., Australia, France and Spain have seen an average 80 per cent fall in the number of newborns contracting group B strep” says Jane Plumb, “What further evidence does our Government need that a national screening programme here would save babies from death and disability?”
The charity Group B Strep Support are calling for people to support its petition for the Department of Health to ensure that every woman is routinely given accurate information about group B Streptococcus (group B Strep or GBS) during her antenatal care; every low-risk woman is offered a sensitive test for GBS, ideally at 35-37 weeks of pregnancy; and every higher-risk woman is offered antibiotics in labour.
The cost really is minimal when you consider the potential outcomes and I fully support the campaign to offer testing for pregnant women and have signed the petition. If you want to sign the petition please click here
- Why won’t Britain act to prevent biggest killer of newborns? The £10 test that could save babies from death (dailymail.co.uk)