Group B Streptococcus
The UK NSC policy on Group B Streptococcus screening in pregnancy
GBS is one of many bacteria that can be present in our bodies. It usually causes no harm. This situation is called carrying GBS or being colonised with GBS. GBS is commonly found in the digestive system and the female reproductive system. It's estimated that about one in four pregnant women in the UK carry GBS.
Around the time of labour and birth, many babies come into contact with GBS and are colonised by the bacteria. Most pregnant women who carry GBS bacteria have healthy babies. However, there's a small risk that GBS can pass to the baby during childbirth. Rarely, GBS infection in newborn babies can cause serious complications that can be life-threatening.
Extremely rarely, GBS infection during pregnancy can also cause miscarriage, early (premature) labour or stillbirth. If a baby develops GBS infection less than seven days after birth, it's known as early-onset GBS infection. Most babies who become infected develop symptoms within 12 hours of birth.
It's estimated that about one in 2,000 babies born in the UK and Ireland develops early-onset GBS infection. This means that every year in the UK (with 680,000 births a year) around 340 babies will develop early-onset GBS infection.
There are a number of clinical risk factors which increase the risk of EOGBS sepsis. These include preterm birth (less than 37 weeks gestation), prolonged rupture of the membranes and maternal fever in labour. In the UK healthcare professionals are encouraged to identify and manage high risk pregnancies on the basis of an assessment of these risk factors.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have published a guideline for professionals and information for the public.
Screening for this condition should not be offered.
A number of Questions and Answers have been written to help explain the rationale.
This policy was reviewed in Nov 2012 but no significant changes were made. It is due to be considered again in 2015/16, or earlier if significant new evidence emerges.
Evidence Supporting the Policy
See the review against UK NSC criteria, below.
Presentations from the stakeholder meeting in November 2008, are also available.
The stakeholder groups will be involved when the policy is next reviewed. If you think your organisation should be added, please contact us.
Related documentsGBS Consultation- Commercial Comments (PDF document, 988KB, 11/12/12)
GBS Consultation- Individual Professional's Comments (PDF document, 366KB, 11/12/12)
GBS Consultation- National Organisations' Comments (PDF document, 12.93MB, 11/12/12)
GBS Consultation- Public Comments (PDF document, 12.79MB, 11/12/12)
GBS Consultation-Politician's Comments (PDF document, 72KB, 11/12/12)
GBS FAQ November (2012) (PDF document, 95KB, 11/12/12)
GBS Policy Statement (November 2012) (PDF document, 2.08MB, 11/12/12)
Review of antenatal screening for Group B Streptococcus (October 2008) (PDF document, 93KB, 05/10/09)
UK NSC External Review GBS Screening (July 2012) (PDF document, 1.42MB, 11/12/12)