Short name for group B streptococci, a bacteria found in the vaginal area of some women. It is a common cause of infection in newborn infants. Roughly 20 percent of all women in the U.S. carry GBS in their birth canals at delivery. It is not a venereal disease nor is it a sign of ill health or poor hygiene.
Women who harbor GBS in their rectums or birth canals are considered "colonized" with GBS. For most of these women, colonization causes no problems to either the mother or child; however, one to two percent of colonized women deliver babies who develop serious group B strep infection. Unfortunately, it is hard to predict which babies born to colonized mothers will develop infection. The mother is often completely healthy and the pregnancy uncomplicated. Furthermore, infants can acquire this potentially deadly infection before birth and yet appear well or only slightly ill for the first few hours after birth. Group B strep can cause pneumonia, meningitis or overwhelming sepsis in the neonate.
For this reason, all women should be screened for the presence of these bacteria during pregnancy, and consideration given to antibiotics before delivery to reduce the chances of infection in the infant. Since this practice was put into place in the mid-1990’s, the rate of Group B infections in newborns has fallen by 65%.