August 16, 2023

Can Group B Strep Cause Cerebral Palsy?

Can Group B Strep Cause Cerebral Palsy - RWK Goodman

Many pregnant women carry the bacteria Group B Streptococcus or GBS and it is usually harmless to both mother and baby. However, in some instances the bacteria can pass to the baby and the baby may go on to develop a severe infection. GBS infection in a baby can have serious consequences and it is essential that the infection is treated urgently to prevent the risks of long-term brain injury including cerebral palsy.

How can GBS infect my baby?

Many pregnant women carry GBS bacteria on the surface of their vaginas without it causing any problems at all. However, some babies can become infected by GBS when the bacteria travel up the vagina into the womb or by the baby coming into contact with the bacteria during birth.

When the GBS bacteria reach the baby, the bacteria may thrive and multiply rapidly causing an invasive infection. When the bacteria passes from mother to baby, this often leads to infection in the first 6 days of life, and this is known as early-onset GBS infection.

Sometimes babies can pick up the bacteria after they are born from all sorts of places, and this may lead to late-onset GBS infection.

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Group B Streptococcal bacteria is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies.

Can GBS infection cause brain damage?

Once the GBS bacteria enter into the blood stream of the baby, they can travel to other parts of the body, including the brain where they can infect the lining around the brain causing it to become inflamed, this is known as meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis can cause stroke, blood clots in the brain, hearing loss and permanent brain damage. Swelling of the brain tissue itself can cause significant and irrecoverable damage to the brain. The cranial nerves may become damaged causing problems with deafness, sight loss and motor control.

An estimated 5-10% of early-onset GBS infection leads to meningitis[1].

[1] Hanna M, Noor A. Streptococcus Group B. [Updated 2023 Jan 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available here.

Can GBS meningitis cause cerebral palsy?

The term cerebral palsy is used to describe disorders of movement as a result of brain damage. There are different types of cerebral palsy, depending on where the brain is damaged and the extent of that damage. There is an enormous range in how people with cerebral palsy are affected day to day.

Meningitis can result in a subsequent diagnosis of cerebral palsy because the infection may damage the areas of the brain responsible for motor control.

How can I prevent GBS infection?

The guidelines for the prevention of early-onset GBS infection, put together by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, recommend that the best treatment to prevent newborn babies from developing GBS infection is to give mothers who are carrying GBS bacteria antibiotics during labour. When antibiotics are given from the start of labour this has proved to be very effective at preventing GBS infection in the baby.

In many countries, all pregnant women are screened for GBS bacteria during their routine antenatal appointments. In the UK however, the current guidelines recommend that screening for GBS should not be offered to all pregnant women because there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the benefits to be gained from screening all pregnant women and treating those carrying GBS would outweigh the harms. The current guidelines only recommend testing women who have tested positive for GBS in a previous pregnancy which creates a ‘Catch-22’ situation.


Group B Strep Support

The charity, Group B Strep Support (GBSS) exists to stop group B Strep infection in babies. They provide up-to-date information on GBS to expectant parents and support affected families. The charity’s aim is for every pregnant woman to be fully informed about group B Strep and given the opportunity to have GBS test in pregnancy if they wish to. If all women were routinely screened for GBS bacteria in late pregnancy then antibiotics can be given in labour to mothers who are carrying the bacteria and many infections would be prevented.

The ECM test (Enriched Culture Medium test) is the international ‘gold standard’ for detecting GBS bacteria. Although the ECM test is not always offered on the NHS, the cost of an ECM home testing pack starts from around £40. Other types of tests are available but the results are not always as reliable and may return false negative results. Information on private testing for GBS is available through the Group B Strep Support website.

Our birth injury team at RWK Goodman represent many children who have sustained brain damage around the time of their birth or during their first few weeks of life as a result of a failure to take adequate steps to prevent GBS infection or to diagnose and treat infection promptly. As injury sustained to the brain at birth often affects the parts of the brain responsible for movement, many of the children we represent are affected by cerebral palsy. We work with some of the country’s leading experts who advise on the standard of medical care received; and on how a child’s quality of life can be maximised through the provision of suitable accommodation, therapies, equipment, assistive technology, treatment and care. We have pooled together this expertise and experience into The Cerebral Palsy Guide below. This guide is now in its 5th edition and is published annually. If you would like a hard copy please contact our team here.

Cerebral Palsy Guide Edition 5 (Aug 2023)
Download our guide to cerebral palsy

Find out all you need to know about the condition, treatments, support available and more in our guide.

Our birth injury experts have collated a range of information for families affected by cerebral palsy in this comprehensive guide.

Download here