One of the organisms I work with is the group B streptococcus, Streptococcus agalactiae (“GBS”). This is a relative of the bacterium that causes strep throat. Typically, GBS causes disease in the very young and older age groups; it’s one of the most common causes of meningitis in newborns, for instance. This has dropped some in recent years, as obstetricians have implemented procedures to screen expectant mothers to see if they’re carrying GBS (as about a quarter of healthy adults do), and then provide antibiotics to carriers during labor (thereby preventing infection of the baby during labor and birth).
However, despite these guidelines, babies are still dying from this infection:
About 5 percent of babies infected with Group B strep die. Most who survive develop normally, but among those who develop meningitis as a result of GBS, up to 50 percent suffer lasting neurologic damage that can include cerebral palsy, sight and hearing loss, mental retardation, learning disabilities and seizures.
This comes from a recent article that covers the issue pretty well, discussing the problems with diagnosis and prevention, how women can act as their own advocates for treatment, and the need for an effective vaccine (that could therefore minimize the need for antibiotics during labor). Education about GBS is increasing, but too many at-risk women still aren’t hearing the message about screening–the article is a good introduction to the issues.