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All pregnant women who go into labour too soon should be given antibiotics to protect their baby from a potentially deadly infection called Group B Strep (GBS), new guidelines say.
Hundreds of newborn babies a year in the UK catch GBS, but with prompt treatment, most can make a full recovery.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says any woman who goes into labour before 37 weeks should be offered antibiotics as a precaution, even if her waters have not broken and the amniotic sac is still intact.
Group B Strep bacteria can live harmlessly in the lower vaginal tract and it can be passed on to the baby during delivery. About one in four women has it, and most women will not realise they are a carrier.
The updated guidelines from RCOG say pregnant women should be given information about the condition to raise awareness.
They also say women who have tested positive for GBS in a previous pregnancy can be tested at 35 to 37 weeks in subsequent pregnancies to see if they also need antibiotics in labour.
Peter Brocklehurst, professor of Women’s Health at the University of Birmingham and a co-author of the guideline, said: “This guidance provides clear advice to doctors and midwives on which women should be offered antibiotics to avoid passing GBS infection onto their babies. In particular we hope to reduce the number of early onset Group B Strep infections and neonatal deaths in babies born before 37 weeks.
“The management of women whose babies are at raised risk of developing Group B Strep infection remains a vital part of reducing illness and deaths caused by this infection. Ensuring a consistent approach to care in all maternity units is vital to achieving the best outcomes for both mother and baby.”
Janice Rymer, Vice President of Education for the RCOG, said: “Research by the RCOG in 2015 found a large variation in UK practice about how best to prevent early onset GBS disease. This revised guideline will provide standardised treatment of pregnant women with GBS and reduce the risk of their babies developing the infection. The guideline also aims to raise awareness of GBS by recommending that all pregnant women are provided with an appropriate information leaflet, which the RCOG is now updating in line with this new guidance.”
Jane Plumb, chief executive of Group B Strep Support, said: “We welcome this major update to the RCOG's clinical guidance which represents a significant improvement in the procedure to prevent Group B Strep infection in newborn babies. When fully implemented across the UK, we believe this change will make a real difference and we will see the rate of infections start to fall.
“We are delighted that the guideline recommends all pregnant women are provided with an information leaflet on GBS. Group B Strep Support has been working closely with the RCOG to develop this leaflet, which will significantly improve the quality and regularity of information on GBS. We are confident that this increased access to clear, concise information will play a vital role in raising awareness of GBS and empowering women to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and in the early days after birth.”