Group B Strep (GBS) is a bacterial infection that infants can acquire from their mothers during labor and delivery. As GBS symptoms are fairly obvious and can be prevented in newborns by the administration of antibiotics to the mother at the onset of labor, health care providers who fail to diagnose or prevent GBS could be liable under medical malpractice.

How Infants Can Be Exposed to and Affected by GBS

Found in the vagina and/or lower intestine of up to 35 percent of women, infants can be exposed to GBS from bacteria traveling upward from the mother’s vagina to the uterus after the mother’s water breaks, or from swallowing or inhaling the bacteria while passing through the birth canal.

GBS can be fatal, killing 400 of the 8,000 babies born with GBS in the U.S., and can otherwise cause permanent brain damage, hearing or vision loss, learning disabilities or cerebral palsy.

Symptoms of GBS

As 75 percent of GBS cases occur in newborns during the first week of life, healthcare providers must seriously consider early symptoms of the infection, which include:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Grunting
  • Seizures

In addition, healthcare providers should be aware of GBS risk factors in the mother, and treat mothers who carry the disease with antibiotics before delivery, in order to prevent the transmission of the disease from mother to child. GBS risk factors in mothers include:

  • Testing positive for GBS at 35-37 weeks gestation
  • Giving birth to a previous baby with GBS disease
  • Fever during labor
  • Water breaking 18 hours or more before delivery
  • Labor before 37 weeks

Successful medical malpractice lawsuits based on a physician’s failure to prevent or diagnose GBS will encourage physicians to routinely administer prenatal screening tests, and could subsequently save the lives of future unborn children.