What is group B strep?
Group B streptococcus (strep) is a serious bacterial infection. Newborns may have the infection hours after delivery. Or it can develop during the first few weeks after birth. When an infant is diagnosed with group B strep right after birth, the infant will stay in the hospital for treatment. This care sheet is for parents who have taken their baby home. It will help caregivers recognize symptoms of the infection if it develops later. This is known as late onset group B strep.
This type of strep is not the same as the type that causes strep throat.
If your baby has group B strep, your baby will need to be treated in a hospital. Your baby may need special care, such as being in the intensive care unit (ICU) in the hospital. This may be scary for you. But the hospital staff understands this. They will explain what happens and will answer your questions.
Newborns infected with group B strep may get a blood infection (sepsis) or lung infection (pneumonia). Or they may get an infection of the fluid or tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). If you think your baby has group B strep, get medical care right away.
What causes it?
The infection is sometimes caused by the mother passing the bacteria to the newborn. The bacteria can also come from another source. Sources for late-onset infection can be hard to figure out and are often unknown. Babies who are born early (before 37 weeks) are more likely than full-term babies to get group B strep.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of group B strep may include high or low body temperature. With a low temperature, your baby's skin may feel cold and clammy. With a high temperature, the skin will feel warmer than usual. Your baby may be fussy and have lower energy. Other symptoms include vomiting, breathing quickly, and having trouble feeding. With babies, vomiting should not be confused with spitting up. Vomiting is forceful. Spitting up may seem forceful. But it often occurs shortly after feeding. And it doesn't continue like vomiting does.
How is it diagnosed?
The doctor will test your baby's blood or urine or both for group B strep bacteria. Your baby may get a chest X-ray. If your baby shows signs of a serious infection, the doctor may test the spinal fluid.
How is it treated?
Your baby will be treated in the hospital. Antibiotics are given to stop the infection. The medicine may be given through an intravenous (IV) needle into a vein.
If your baby has trouble breathing, the doctor may use a ventilator. This machine helps your baby breathe. To do this, the doctor puts a soft tube through your baby's mouth into the windpipe.
The hospital staff will give your baby the nutrition your baby needs. The doctor may feed your baby through a soft tube that goes through the nose and into the stomach. Or the doctor may use an IV that goes through the belly button to do this.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- Your baby passes out (loses consciousness).
- Your baby has severe trouble breathing. Symptoms may include:
- Using the belly muscles to breathe.
- The chest sinking in or the nostrils flaring when your baby struggles to breathe.
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
- Your baby has new or worse trouble breathing.
- Your baby has a rectal temperature that is less than 36.6°C (97.9°F) or is 38°C (100.4°F) or higher. Call if you can't take your baby's temperature but he or she seems hot.
- Your baby feels cold and clammy.
- Your baby has no wet diapers for 6 hours or has strong-smelling urine.
- Your baby's colouring has changed. His or her skin may look pale or blue.
Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:
- Your baby cries in an unusual way or for an unusual length of time.
- Your baby is rarely awake and does not wake up for feedings, is very fussy, seems too tired to eat, or is not interested in eating.
Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter N621 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Group B Strep in Newborns".
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Thomas Emmett Francoeur MD MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Jennifer Merchant MD - Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine