Can science and technology eliminate Group B Strep?

Jennifer Janowski

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacteria that can cause sepsis, pneumonia and sometimes meningitis in newborns.  (Source CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/groupbstrep/index.html)  In fact,  (From the MMWR http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr5910.pdf) GBS is the leading infectious cause of morbidity and mortality among infants in the United States.

There are two types of Group B Strep disease (GBS) in newborns:  early-onset and late-onset.   And as the names imply, are distinguished by the timing of the onset of the disease.     Early onset, occurring during the first week of life, used to be the most common disease in babies.    Over the past 2 decades, the incidence has decreased from 1.7 cases per live birth in the 90s to .34-.37 cases per 1,000 in 2008.  Even so, approximately 1000 babies per year in the US get early-onset GBS.  (MMWR http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr5910.pdf)

This reduction is thought to be due to the screening of pregnant women between 34-37 weeks gestation and the subsequent administration of prophylactic antibiotics during labor.   Having gone through this three times myself, I can vouch for the efficacy of that screening.

So while tremendous progress has been made, there is still room for improvement.

Starting with “Are we treating the right patients?”  The CDC algorithms published in 2010 and updated in 2014 are robust and require accurate and complete patient data, which is not always available.  In fact, 2014 research from Verani et all showed > 50% error in implementation of prophylactic antibiotics. (Obstetrics & Gynecology Vol 123; 2014: 828-37).  Dr. David McLean and his team at Lehigh Valley Medical Center have been working with the CDC and GE Healthcare engineers to utilize technology to address this concern.

Another concern surrounds the wide-spread use of antibiotics and the growth of medically resistant strains.  The trends are concerning and in 2014, the Wall Street Journal highlighted the deadly impact of antibiotic overuse:  http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304585004579419493198620498

An exciting development is in the area of vaccine development.   On June 2, 2015, Minervax announced  they are initiating Phase I clinical trials for GBS vaccine.

http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/696809/26279419/1433247140630/MinervaX+Press+Release+020615.pdf?token=%2BzlUTtncwYa1huRUHItNq05Wh2g%3D

July is GBS Awareness Month.  http://www.groupbstrepinternational.org/    With the advances in science and technology, let’s all strive to keep our focus on this preventable disease in newborns!


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