Sepsis and 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.

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Group B Streptococcus. 2024

Updated January 5, 2024.


More About Group B Strep


Typically, 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

Newborns 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 carrying the bacteria (even if they are not sick) and passing it to the baby.

Risk Factors

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


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 birthThe 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 during labor
  • A previous pregnancy 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 their ability to fight infections are at risk. In addition, people who have invasive procedures, such as a urinary catheter, are also at risk. As people get older, they do become more susceptible to GBS.


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)
  • 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 between 35 to 37 weeks pregnant ask their doctor or midwife for GBS testing.


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 consider this when making plans for your baby’s delivery. Pregnant people who have GBS are typically given intravenous (IV) antibiotics while they are in labor and delivering. If you have GBS, there is no benefit from taking antibiotics against GBS before going into labor. 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 an infection caused by GBS is with antibiotics.

Related Resources

Information Guide

Group B Strep

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Group B Streptococcus