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 https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/group-b-strep/

Updated January 5, 2024.

 

More About Group B Strep

Examples

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.

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 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.

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)
  • 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.

Prevention

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

Treatment for an infection caused by GBS is with antibiotics.

Related Resources

Information Guide

Group B Strep

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Corinne J.

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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Kerry Hecht

I got sick in December 2020 when Covid was in full swing. I was perfectly fine – completely normal. About halfway through a meeting, I started getting very tired and got terrible chills. I assumed, like everyone did then, that I had Covid. When I went to the urgent care to get tested – it was negative, and they sent me home. I loaded up on aspirin and was fine – actually, for a few days. Then, it returned. With a high fever, chills, and vomiting, I returned to the urgent care to get tested again for COVID-19. I was ... Read Full Story

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Nash Epperson

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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Emilie O’c

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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Saylor Schlei

My beautiful daughter, Saylor was born on October 7, 2023. Though I arrived at the hospital almost 10 cm dilated and had to give birth to her without epidural, my delivery was successful, and we were discharged from the hospital the very next day. For almost 2 weeks, everything was normal. Saylor loved to smile, and cuddle, and enjoyed her baths and tummy time. It wasn’t until the night of Tuesday, October 24th that I began to get concerned. Saylor slept off and on for most of that day, but she was her normal self when she was awake. We ... Read Full Story

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Group B Streptococcus