As many as 100,000 newborn babies are being killed every year by bacteria that is commonly carried by mothers, a new study finds.
This dangerous bacteria is rarely tested for in the UK, despite the deadly risk it poses to newborns.
Streptococcus agalactiae, also known as Group B Streptococcus (GBS), is present in the genital tract in around one in five women and previous studies identified it in the placenta of around five percent of women prior to the onset of labor.
GBS can cause sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to an infection, in the newborn.
Worldwide, GBS accounts for around 50,000 stillbirths and as many as 100,000 infant deaths per year.
Although GBS can be treated with antibiotics, unless screened, women will not know they are carriers.
To get their results, the team from the University of Cambridge, reanalyzed data available from 436 infants born at term, confirming their findings in a second cohort of 925 pregnancies.
From their analysis, the researchers estimate that placental GBS was associated with a two- to three-fold increased risk of neonatal unit admission, with one in 200 babies admitted with sepsis associated with GBS.
This is almost 10 times the previously estimated amount.
The clinical assessment of these babies using the current diagnostic testing identified GBS in less than one in five of these cases.
In the UK only a minority of pregnant women are tested for GBS, as doctors only obtain samples from women experiencing complications, or with other risk factors.
“In the UK, we’ve traditionally not screened mothers for GBS, but our findings – that significantly more newborns are admitted to the neonatal unit as a result of GBS-related sepsis than was previously thought – profoundly changes the risk/benefit balance of universal screening,” said Dr. Francesca Gaccioli.
In an attempt to solve this problem, the team has created a PCR test that will use small amounts of DNA to check for GBS.
“Using this new test, we now realize that the clinically detected cases of GBS may represent the tip of the iceberg of complications arising from this infection,” said Professor Gordon Smith.
“We hope that the ultra-sensitive test developed by our team might lead to viable point-of-care testing to inform immediate neonatal care.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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