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Group B streptococcus – one of the most common causes of life-threatening infections in newborn babies that’s NOT routinely tested for in the UK

Posted 11 May 2021 in Womens health

This month we’re raising awareness around group B strep (GBS), which is carried by 20% to 40% of women in the UK.[1]

What exactly is group B strep and can it affect anyone?

A baby wrapped in a bundleThe hard fact is that it can affect anyone.

It’s a bacteria that usually lives in your vagina or rectum and both men and women can have it. It’s normally harmless – most aren’t even aware they carry it – but it can put pregnant women and newborn babies at an increased risk.

It’s worth noting that it’s not a sexually transmitted disease.


What are the risks?

If you carry GBS then there’s a small risk you’ll pass it on to baby during labour, which can lead to serious infections like meningitis, sepsis and pneumonia.[2]

1 out of 1750 babies are diagnosed with early onset GBS, meaning that symptoms of infection will appear within 12 to 24 hours after birth.

1 out of every 2700 babies develop late onset GBS, developing an infection up to 3 months old.[3]

Every month in the UK, an average of 43 babies are diagnosed with early onset GBS: 38 will make a full recovery, three babies will survive with long-term physical and mental disabilities while two babies will unfortunately die from GBS infection.[4]

This is preventable. So why is it not routinely tested for?

The risk is only small, and most babies are born safely without developing an infection.

However, a simple at-home swab test known as an ECM (Enriched Culture Medium) can detect if you’re carrying GBS, which is best taken when you’re 35-37 weeks pregnant.

This easy-to-use test can protect your baby’s health.

Some maternity units still only use a standard test, which doesn’t detect up to half of cases, so an ECM test (the one we supply) is preferable.[5]

If you do get a positive result, try not to worry- this is easily treated. You’ll be given antibiotics during labour and your baby will be closely monitored after birth.

Taking the test

You’ll need to use two swabs – one vaginal and one rectal. Then all you need to do is fill in your details, send your samples off using the pre-paid envelope and you should receive the results within three days of the lab receiving your kit.

Margaret, our lead pharmacist is here to help you along the way, whether you have any questions before ordering, while you’re using your kit and afterwards.

Buy now You can call us on 0161 491 1899 for advice and support Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.


  1. Group B strep (strep B) and pregnancy | Tommy's (tommys.org)
  2. Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in pregnancy and newborn babies (rcog.org.uk)
  3. Group B Strep and pregnancy - Group B Strep Support (gbss.org.uk)
  4. Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in pregnancy and newborn babies (rcog.org.uk)
  5. Group B Strep and pregnancy - Group B Strep Support (gbss.org.uk)

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