A relatively common pregnancy complication is a Group B strep (streptococcus) infection, which affects about one-quarter of adult women in the US. While the bacteria that cause this infection probably will not harm the mother, her child may suffer devastating consequences. A doctor should test an expectant mother for Group B strep late in pregnancy, since the bacteria regularly come and go in the body. A prompt diagnosis will allow a doctor to issue antibiotics that will prevent the mother from transmitting the infection to the baby.
Group B strep is more common after a premature birth, since these children have weaker immune systems to fight an infection. A mother may be more likely to transmit the infection to her child if she previously gave birth to a child with a Group B strep infection, suffers from a fever during labor, or tested positive for the bacteria relatively late in the pregnancy.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Group B Strep Infections
A child may develop an early-onset infection within one week of birth, and often within 24 hours of birth. In other cases, they may develop a late-onset infection a few weeks or months afterward. Diagnosing Group B strep in a baby can be challenging because the symptoms overlap with other conditions that may occur during or after childbirth. Symptoms include:
To identify a Group B strep infection, a doctor may collect samples of blood, urine, or spinal fluids. If the bacteria grow in the samples over the course of a few days, this indicates the presence of Group B strep. In other cases, a doctor might conduct a chest X-ray.
Complications of Group B Strep Infections
Sometimes Group B strep is harmless, but newborns may develop potentially life-threatening infections from this condition. One of the most serious complications is meningitis, which is a membrane inflammation that can affect the brain, vision, and hearing. A child with meningitis may suffer from seizures and struggle to develop normally. Other infections may affect bones, joints, skin, or soft tissues. Group B strep also poses a risk of respiratory conditions like pneumonia. Sometimes it leads to sepsis, which is a body-wide inflammation that can cause organ failure and death.
Risks During Pregnancy
A mother may suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth if the fetus dies from an infection. Meanwhile, a urinary tract infection caused by Group B strep increases the risk of preterm labor.
Treatment for Group B Strep Infections
When a doctor diagnoses a mother with Group B strep, they can provide antibiotics during labor that virtually eliminate the risk of transmitting the infection to the child. Penicillin or similar medications may be administered intravenously. When a child is born with Group B strep, the treatment will depend on their symptoms and complications from the condition. In the newborn intensive care unit at the hospital, medical providers can supply the baby with intravenous fluids. They may need to provide breathing assistance if an infection has led to pneumonia or other respiratory problems.
Legal Claims Based on Group B Strep Infections
Since Group B strep is a widely recognized risk during pregnancy, a doctor treating an expectant mother should understand the importance of testing for this condition. They also should provide prompt treatment, such as antibiotics, once they have reached a diagnosis. Failing to diagnose Group B strep likely indicates medical malpractice. This means that a doctor did not provide the level of care that a competent physician in their field would have provided when treating a similar patient. A medical malpractice claim can pursue compensation for the costs of past, present, and future treatment, as well as pain and suffering.
To preserve their right to compensation, parents will need to bring a claim within the statute of limitations in their state. The statute of limitations defines the time window for bringing a lawsuit. A case probably will be dismissed if a court finds that it was filed after the statute of limitations expired. Parents thus should consult a birth injury lawyer as soon as possible once they suspect malpractice.
Birth injury attorneys usually offer free consultations, at which they can assess the strength and value of a claim.