Those newborn babies who become infected with GBS are classified as having one of two stages—early or late-onset. Infants infected with the bacterium either at birth or by their seventh day of life are diagnosed with early-onset GBS, which can lead to inflammation of the baby's lungs, spinal cord, or brain; meningitis; or sepsis. It is also a frequent cause of newborn pneumonia.
Infants who appear to be born healthy but develop symptoms of GBS from one week to several months after birth are diagnosed with late-onset GBS. This is a rare condition, since only about half of late-onset GBS disease comes from a mother who is a GBS carrier. The source of infection for the other cases of late-onset GBS is unknown.
According to Dr. Carol J. Baker, MD, professor of pediatrics, Molecular Virology & Immunology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, these babies can pick up GBS from a variety of different sources. "This is another possibility within the 'community spread' syndrome. Both mom and baby come home from the hospital together, and the mother may transmit it to her baby through poor hygiene (not washing hands), or dad might have it and transmit it to the baby through contact. Or the baby could have come in contact with it through the hospital environment."
Meningitis and pneumonia are considered symptoms of late-onset infection, which can bring long-term problems associated with the infant's nerve system; however, Dr. Tharakan believes that, "if infection in babies is promptly treated, there is usually no long-term damage."
The medical community is working to create a vaccination that protects women and their babies from the dangers of group B strep. Dr. Baker, who with her colleagues has been testing a conjugate vaccination in trials, has seen some positive results. But until a vaccination becomes available to the public, it cannot be stressed enough to get tested for this bacteria during the 35th to 37th week of pregnancy. If your doctor doesn't mention it, bring it up during your routine visits. Knowing your culture result before you go into labor can help save your baby's life.