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Group B Streptococcus

Group B strep bacteria, commonly found in your intestines and lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract, can cause serious complications for newborns, older people, and those with certain chronic illnesses, like diabetes. People who develop a group B strep infection could develop sepsis.

Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

What is group B strep disease?

For the most part, most healthy adults do not get infections from group B strep (GBS). If they do, the most common infections are:

  • Bloodstream infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Skin and soft-tissue infections
  • Bone and joint infections

It is newborns who are most at risk for developing severe complications and sepsis from group b strep. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), GBS is the leading cause of meningitis and sepsis in a newborn’s first week of life.

Babies infected within the first week of life have early-onset GBS disease. If they become sick from 7 days old to 3 months or more, it is called late-onset GBS disease.

Early-onset GBS disease is caused when a baby picks up the bacteria while passing through the birth canal. Late-onset is caused by people who are carrying the bacteria (even if they are not sick) and they pass it to the baby.

Who is at risk?

Newborns and people with chronic illnesses are at risk of developing an infection from GBS, as are the elderly.

Newborns

A newborn is at risk of developing a GBS infection if:

  • The baby is premature, more than three weeks before the due date;
  • The membranes (water) broke more than 18 hours before the birth;
  • The staff use a monitor that attaches to the baby’s scalp while the baby is still in the uterus (intrauterine fetal monitoring, or scalp lead);
  • There is GBS in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, reproductive tract, or urinary tract during pregnancy;
  • There is a fever of 100.4° Fahrenheit or 38° Celsius or higher while in labor; or
  • There was a previous pregnancy which resulted in a baby with a GBS infection.

Older children and adults

Children and adults who have a chronic illness that can lower their immune system or who take medication that lowers the immune system, are at risk. In addition, people who have invasive procedures, such as the insertion of a urinary catheter, are also at risk. As people get older, they do become more susceptible to GBS.

Group B strep symptoms

Babies who have developed GBS may show some of these symptoms:

  • Unstable body temperature (high or low),
  • Pale skin, or bluish tint,
  • Difficulty breathing, such as the nose flaring, breathing quickly, and/or grunting,
  • Poor feeding,
  • Abnormal pulse (heart rate), and
  • Listlessness or irritability.

Unless they have an infection, adults don’t usually show any symptoms if they are just carrying the bacteria.

During pregnancy

Without an actual GBS diagnosis, you probably don’t know if you have the infection. The CDC recommends that people who are between 35 to 37 weeks’ pregnant ask their doctor or midwife for GBS testing.

Preventing GBS disease

For older children and adults, preventing an infection from GBS is the same as with other types of infections: washing your hands.

Preventing GBS among infants depends on treatment during pregnancy. If your test for GBS is positive, your doctor or midwife will take this into consideration when making plans for your baby’s delivery. People who are pregnant who have GBS are generally given antibiotics by intravenous (IV) while they are in labor and delivering. If you have GBS, there is no benefit from taking antibiotics against GBS before going into labor as the bacteria grow back very quickly and your baby would not be protected.

If something happens and you end up delivering in a facility where you didn’t expect to, it’s important that you let the staff know that you tested positive for GBS.

Treatment for GBS disease

Treatment for an infection caused by GBS is with antibiotics.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

what is sepsis

The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, which is a downloadable format for easier printing.

 

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Learn more about this infection at Group B Strep International.

Updated November 2, 2021.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Group B Streptococcus

Corinne J.

Survivor

I am a 67-year-old retired public health nurse and sepsis survivor. In 2010, I suffered what appeared to be a simple ankle sprain. But as days went by, I began to have excruciating pain in my ankle and leg, everything I ate tasted like sawdust, I was nauseous, ran a fever and began to have bleeding from my gut. My physician treated me with antibiotics for what she felt was a urinary tract infection. Within two weeks, my condition was worsening. I could not get out of bed without extreme shortness of breath. By the time my physician decided to admit ... Read Full Story

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Emilie O’c

Survivor, Bug's Angels, Tribute

Here is our story about one precious little girl, called Emilie, aged just 10 months old. Our daughter was born on April 6th with a health condition, which never hindered her. We weren’t sure if she would even survive at birth, but she proved everyone wrong and was fantastic, doing everything a normal baby does. We were so happy with our little miracle baby! AT 2 WEEKS OLD At just two weeks old, Emilie developed a Group B Strep urine infection and the doctors looking after her advised us she was starting to go septic, but they had caught it ... Read Full Story

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Charla Martinez

Survivor, Bug's Angels, Tribute, Survivor

I’m 23 years old and I am a postpartum sepsis survivor. (Sepsis and Pregnancy & Childbirth) I was a first time mom and had a healthy pregnancy throughout, although I did find out mid pregnancy that I had strep B. (Sepsis and Group B Streptococcus) My former OBGYN let me know some women just have it in their body and it could be treated with antibiotics so I didn’t think much of it. I ended up switching providers and they never really followed up with it. Right before going in to get my c-section, I got tested for COVID, to ... Read Full Story

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Nash Epperson

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On the morning of April 28, 2018, Nash was a normal, healthy 6-year-old playing in an early morning soccer game. That same evening, we almost lost our sweet boy to sepsis. That Saturday was full of soccer games and celebration – April is a month full of birthdays for our family, including Nash. On that April afternoon we had gone to a family member’s home to celebrate a birthday. While there, Nash began to complain of belly pain and had developed a fever. We took him home and he laid down to rest. As the day progressed his pain increased ... Read Full Story

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Shay and Amelia B.

Survivor, Bug's Angels, Tribute, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

It was Friday, October 24, 2014. I was 27 weeks pregnant and just finished two long days of parent teacher conferences. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. My husband and I had scheduled a long overdue date night, but I was so tired I ended up sleeping through it. (Sepsis and Pregnancy & Childbirth) I woke up in the middle of the night to uncontrollable chills and could not stop shaking; violently shaking. The next day my husband had planned to go golfing, but I was to tired to move so my mom said she ... Read Full Story

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Group B Streptococcus

Group B strep bacteria, commonly found in your intestines and lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract, can cause serious complications for newborns, older people, and those with certain chronic illnesses, like diabetes. People who develop a group B strep infection could develop sepsis.