Posted by Kerstin Scheel, Partner
Anticipated Group B Strep vaccination reported to potentially prevent over 100,000 baby deaths worldwide
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a common bacterium which around 1 in 5 women carry at any time, though usually it is entirely harmless. However, it can sometimes be transmitted to the baby around childbirth and can cause infection in the newborn baby. Sadly, this infection can cause catastrophic injuries or even death.
A recent study estimated that providing intravenous antibiotics in labour to women whose babies are at high risk developing Group B Strep infection could prevent about 40% of all GBS infections in babies (the antibiotics in labour do not reduce the late-onset GBS infection, only the early-onset infection). They calculated that providing a GBS vaccine to all women could potentially prevent as many as 70% of all GBS infections in babies.
How Group B Strep is detected
Fortunately, there are high success rates for treatment provided that antibiotics are given to the mother during labour. It is therefore very important to know whether or not a woman is carrying Group B Strep towards the final stages of her pregnancy.
At present, the UK does not have a universal antenatal screening programme in place (unlike many other developed countries). Instead, we adopt a ‘risk-based’ method here, with GBS testing or treatment being offered only to women who meet certain risk criteria. This approach is far from perfect and tragically two babies a week suffer long-term disability or die as a result of GBS infection in the UK.
A vaccine could potentially prevent many more deaths than using antibiotics alone.
The latest research
The study was carried out by researchers from King’s College London, University of Bristol, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a number of other institutes in Europe, the United States and Africa. The study was published in the peer-reviewed Medical Journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases, which can be freely accessed online here.
The key findings were:
- 15% of all mothers worldwide were carrying Group B Strep at the time of delivery
- there were 90,000 deaths in infants aged up to 3 months due to GBS infection
- most deaths occurred in developing countries with poor access to health care. Fewer than 1% of infant deaths related to Group B Strep occurred in developed countries like the UK
- Group B Strep may be responsible for up to 3.5 million pre-term births and 57,000 stillbirths worldwide in 2015
- research has estimated that providing antibiotics during labour prevented 29,000 cases of early-onset infection
- it was estimated that an effective GBS vaccine, if developed, could if given to 50% of women, would prevent about 40% of infant and maternal Group B Strep cases and infant deaths caused by early and late-onset GBS infection
- if the vaccine was given to 90% of women then it was estimated that it could prevent 70% of infant deaths caused by early and late-onset GBS infection.
A potential step forward
Whilst many of the report’s findings were estimates, the study clearly shows the huge potential of an anti-GBS vaccine. Although vaccinations are in development, they are not likely to be approved and widely available for at least 5 years. The authors of the study are therefore calling for the vaccine’s development to be accelerated.
We fully support any efforts to expedite the GBS vaccination. Immunising expectant mothers is a potentially groundbreaking approach that could significantly lower the number of maternal and child deaths related to Group B Strep infection, and make very real progress towards preventing a huge number of deaths which could otherwise be avoided.
If you have any queries about Group B Strep infection then please do not hesitate to get in touch using the form below. You can also find additional information on our dedicated Group B Strep page .
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