May 15

Screening programme reduced life-threatening infection in newborn babies by over 80%

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breastfeeding, benefits of breastfeeding, mum, baby, what age to stop breastfeedingA leading London hospital dramatically reduced the rates of a life-threatening infection in newborn babies thanks to a simple screening test.

New research published today from a pilot study[1] at Northwick Park Hospital reports that screening pregnant women for group B Strep (GBS) reduced the rate of these potentially deadly infections in their newborn babies by 83%.

The results, published in the prestigious BMJ Open come just days after the National Screening Committee said there was “insufficient evidence” to introduce GBS screening for mums-to-be in the UK.

Yet in countries that have introduced antenatal GBS screening – recognised internationally as best practice – rates of these infections have fallen by significantly, by 70-90%.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS or Strep B) is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies, causing sepsispneumonia and meningitis, and claims the life of one baby a week.

Previously Northwick Park Hospital had one of the highest rates of group B Strep infection in newborn babies in the country, almost three times the national average, despite following national guidelines.

To combat this worrying figure, Dr Gopal Rao, Consultant Microbiologist at Northwick Park Hospital, decided to set up the screening programme in his busy UK multi-ethnic community to see whether this would help reduce the rate of group B Strep infection in newborn babies.

Over 6,000 pregnant women chose to have the test. This involved taking two simple swabs (which the majority of women chose to do themselves at 35-37 weeks of pregnancy) – after being given information about GBS.


[1] Outcome of a screening programme for the prevention of neonatal invasive early-onset group B Streptococcus infection in a UK maternity unit: an observational study. Rao GG, Nartey G, McAree T, O’Reilly A, Hiles S, Lee T, Wallace S, Batura R, Khanna P, Abbas H, Tilsed C, Nicholl R, Lamagni T, Bassett P. BMJ Open 2017;7:e014634. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014634.