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Group A streptococcus infections in childbirth: Topic overview

Group A Streptococcus Infections in Childbirth

Topic overview

What is group A streptococcus?

Group A streptococcus (GAS) is bacteria that can be found in your throat, in your nose, or on your skin. Anyone, not just pregnant people, can have GAS bacteria.

What are group A streptococcus infections?

Most GAS infections are mild, such as strep throat or skin infections. Many people recover from these illnesses in a short time. But GAS bacteria can also cause much more serious infections.

What are the symptoms of GAS infection?

GAS infection can be serious before and after you have your baby. You may need to be treated at the hospital, and it’s best to get treatment as early as possible. Be sure to watch for symptoms and call your healthcare provider if you think you have an infection.

Symptoms of infection may include:

  • pain that is getting worse
  • redness, blisters, or swelling around your caesarian (C-section) cut, belly, vagina, or any other cuts or tears that happened when you had your baby (such as an episiotomy)
  • bad-smelling fluid (discharge) leaking from your vagina or any cuts or tears
  • fever and chills
  • dizziness or feeling light-headed or fainting
  • confusion
  • tremors or shakes
  • signs of mastitis, such as your breast feels full, tender, or looks red
  • flu-like symptoms such as sore throat, cough, muscle aches, joint pain, not feeling hungry, having no energy
  • rash that is spreading over your body
  • nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting (throwing up), diarrhea (watery poop)
  • pain when you pee or the need to pee often

How harmful is GAS?

GAS infections usually cause illnesses such as strep throat or impetigo. But sometimes the germs can cause more serious infections, and get into your blood, the tissues around the muscle or wound, or even your lungs. These infections can happen before or after your baby is born.

How does GAS spread?

GAS germs spread through contact with mucus, saliva, or wounds of a person who is infected with GAS.

People who are sick with infections such as strep throat or skin infections are most likely to spread GAS germs. But people can still spread these germs even if they don’t feel sick. These people are called carriers.

The germs can spread through by touching, talking, laughing, coughing, and sneezing. They can spread from:

  • patient to healthcare provider
  • patient to patient (such as parent to newborn)
  • healthcare provider to patient

How can I stop GAS infections from spreading?

Here are the most important things you can do before and after your baby is born to stop GAS germs from spreading.

Clean your hands.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizer (alcohol-based hand rub) if there’s no soap and water.
  • Wash your hands at important times such as:
    • before and after feeding and caring for your baby
    • before and after using the toilet or changing sanitary pads
    • before preparing foods or eating
    • before and after visiting with anyone who has a sore throat or upper respiratory infection (It’s safest to wait and visit when everyone is healthy.)

Cover your cough.

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put your used tissue in the garbage.
  • If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Healthcare providers who are close to you during delivery will wear face masks. It’s a good idea for your birth support partner to wear a mask as well.

Keep yourself clean.

  • Change your sanitary pads often—don’t use tampons for a few weeks after you have your baby.
  • Shower every day.
  • Keep your perineum (the area between your anus and vulva) clean and dry, and practice perineal care.
  • If you’ve had a C-section, follow instructions from your healthcare provider to keep your incision clean and dry.

How is GAS infection treated?

GAS is treated with antibiotics. If you have a serious GAS infection, people who have been in close contact with you (such as your family or other patients) may also get antibiotics.

What if I’m a patient with a GAS infection in a healthcare facility?

Healthcare facilities take extra steps to help stop GAS from spreading. Staff may put a sign on the door of your room to remind people to use isolation precautions (such as masks, eye protection, gowns, and gloves) before entering your room.

You’ll need to stay in your room as much as possible—only leave your room when a healthcare provider asks you to (for example, to go for a medical test).

If you do leave your room, do these things first:

  • If the sign on your door includes droplet precautions, you’ll need to wear a mask. If you don’t know if you need a mask, ask your healthcare provider.
  • Clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer. You don’t have to wear gloves.
  • Wear a clean, fresh hospital robe (housecoat) over your pajamas or clothes.
  • Ask your healthcare provider to cover wounds with a clean dressing or to change your dressing if it’s dirty or falling off.
  • Ask for help cleaning places you have touched, such as armrests on your wheelchair, walker handles, cane, or IV pole.

How can I lower the risk of my newborn getting a GAS infection?

  • Make sure you clean your hands often, cover your cough, and keep yourself clean.
  • Talk with your lactation consultant (breastfeeding expert) if you have sore or cracked nipples, or your breasts look red or feel painful.

How can I stop germs from spreading at home?

There are simple things you can do to stop germs from spreading at home:

  • Clean your hands regularly. This is the best way to stop germs from spreading.
  • Cover your cough and keep yourself clean.
  • Don’t share personal items such as towels, clothing, bar soap, or razors.
  • Clean your home regularly, especially the kitchen and bathroom. Refer to Reducing germs and infections in the home for tips to stop germs from spreading.
  • Wash clothing using regular laundry soap in the regular wash cycle.
  • Clean shared items (such as sports equipment or surfaces like counters) with a household disinfectant.
  • Wash glasses, utensils, and plates after someone who is sick uses them. They’re safe for others to use after you wash them.
  • If you think you have an infection, tell your healthcare provider, midwife, or public health nurse right away.

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Current as of: May 29, 2023

Author: Infection Prevention and Control, Alberta Health Services

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.