When I hear the word “strep”, I automatically think of “strep throat”. Strep, short for streptococcus, however, comes in more than one type. Strep throat, for instance, is a Group A strep infection, and while occasionally severe or life-threatening, is normally relatively mild—like in the cases of strep throat or impetigo; in fact, both of these areas of our bodies—our throats and skin—can carry streptococcus bacteria without us even having symptoms. Pneumonia and streptococcus toxic shock syndrome can also be caused by Group A strep, and are more severe.  As you’re probably familiar, Group A strep infections that are mild, are normally treated with antibiotics and resolve pretty quickly.
Group B streptococcus, or GBS, on the other hand, can be a bit more complicated—and a lot less commonly heard of. GBS is, in adults, commonly carried in the lower genital tract or intestinal tract, and can—like some group A strep infections—be asymptomatic (symptom free). Group B strep, though, may lead to severe illness in some people—especially those with diabetes, or liver disease. Older adults are also more likely to get sicker from GBS.  In adults, group B strep when symptomatic, is likely to cause gastrointestinal problems (like a stomach bug), urinary tract infections, or pneumonia—in general, these infections are more troublesome to people who have the above conditions, although can advance to more serious conditions like sepsis if untreated in adults, as well as meningitis for any population. [2.1]
One population, though, that has special risk if exposed to Group B Strep, are newborns and infants whose mothers carried a GBS infection during their pregnancy. Pregnant women should be screened for GBS, as while it may be asymptomatic in an otherwise healthy adult woman, it can cause severe problems for her baby. Antibiotic treatment should be given to the mother if determined she is carrying GBS, and in most cases, prevents problems for both her and the infant [2.1] While most babies will be relatively healthy in this case, some may go on to develop severe symptoms of Group B Strep Disease.
Group B Strep Diseases (GBSD) is a potentially life-threatening disease in infants, that may develop early (within one week of birth) or late (1 week to a few months after birth), causing fever, difficulty feeding/eating, and tiredness; late onset symptoms include difficulty breathing and irritability. Babies are also at risk of GBSD if born earlier than 37 weeks gestation (premature), the mother’s water breaks more than 18 hours prior to the baby’s birth (greater chance of bacteria reaching the baby), the mother’s amniotic fluid or placenta becomes infected, as these are crucial to how the baby survives in the uterus, the mother currently has GBS bacteria in her urine, or has in previous pregnancies, the mother has a fever greater than 100.4*F during labour, or if the child has a sibling who developed GBSD. [2.1]
Swab tests during weeks 35 to 37 of pregnancy are done to check for GBS [2.2]. Since it is possible to carry GBS without having any symptoms, this test is important. If found, antibiotics will be given, and are safe to take during pregnancy, which are safe—and beneficial, in this case—for the baby. [2.2] A baby who has Group B Strep will be given antibiotics via intravenous, and if needed, IV fluids, oxygen, or medications while they get better [2.2].
Group B Strep and Group B Strep Disease can be serious, but if monitored well and treatment is given early, results are normally good. Having Group B strep while pregnant does not mean that you’re sick—in fact, knowing that you carry Group B Strep bacteria is actually a good thing, as it allows you to take the right precautions to ensure your baby is healthy and gets the best start in life!