Trigger warning: this article mentions baby loss.
Pregnant women are being urged to make sure they receive a Group B Strep test, in a bid to save the lives of 50 babies a year.
Strep B, dubbed ‘a silent killer’ kills around 50 babies a year and can leave 70 with life-changing disabilities.
Now, Health Minister Nadine Dorries is urging women to make sure they ask their midwives and doctors during their antenatal care for the test. It’s hoped more screening could cut down the death toll, but could also produce evidence that meant it was compulsory for health services to test all women in future.
Speaking to Grazia, Nadine explained: ‘Strep B is a bacteria which lives in the vagina and around the anus and it’s basically a silent killer because women don’t know they’re carrying it. 1 in 4 women do carry it and during delivery when the baby travels down the birth canal it comes into contact with Strep B.
‘A newborn baby’s immune system can become overwhelmed, often within 24 hours of birth. Sadly, someone I know personally lost their baby to Strep B just a few weeks ago.’
In a bid to try and cut down on these numbers, 18months ago Nadine launched a trial, GBS3, in the hope the evidence gathered would provide the necessary data that the National Screening Committee requires in order to approve testing as standard for all women. The trial set out to test 320,000 women in the UK in a bid to prove that if a woman tests positive for Strep B and is given appropriate anti-biotics before she delivers then the number of babies and families affected will reduce.
However, thanks to covid halting the trial (it’s now restarted) and a low take-up by health trusts (only 15 of 80 have signed up) the trial has been compromised and Nadine is calling on women to pile on the pressure themselves to get the trial moving again.
‘We know from recent reports that women in healthcare settings feel that they are not listened to and for me as a Health Minister, pushing to bring about change can often feel like wading through treacle.'
‘We need women to ask, “Am I going to be tested for Strep B?” The pressure has to come from both sides. It has to be a collective effort from women as well to campaign for this to get to the place whereby every woman in the UK is tested for Strep B.
‘This is a silent killer and the only way we can get this trial to work is if pregnant women play their part too – as women we sadly still have to fight and we have to keep up that drum-beat. I need every pregnant woman to be aware and to ask for the test. If your midwife says you’re not going to be screened, ask if your hospital is part of the GBS3 trial and if it’s not, ask why not?’
The test is standard in America, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries. It’s also important that women who may have stayed at home longer after their waters have broken (this is increasingly the case with women worrying about going into hospitals with covid restrictions) ask to be swabbed for the test when they get to hospital.
Nadine Dorries says she’s incredibly passionate about making sure women partake in the trial and that the test becomes standard in order to save lives.
‘When you’ve had your positive pregnancy test and you know you’re pregnant, many women form a bond with the baby straight away,’ she said. ‘To go through delivering a healthy, live baby and for that baby to die within 24 hours from an unknown killer like Strep B… I don’t think you can put into words the impact that has on the parents and the mother who has carried that baby for nine months, kept it safe, delivered that healthy baby, only for reasons completely out of her control for the baby to be taken… I don’t think you can actually describe emotionally how that affects people. 50 couples a year walk out of their maternity unit with empty arms, they go home to an empty nursery. They have to speak to friends and family who have welcomed a new arrival, to be told 24 hours later the baby has died. It is so totally devastating.’
If for some reason you are unable to get a Strep B test from your hospital as part of your maternity care, you can go to the GBSS charity, who provide links to a place where you can buy a self-test kit, which you can do at home. These cost £38.
For more information on Group B Strep and testing, go to https://gbss.org.uk/