Clinical Negligence and Pregnancy: The Risks of Strep B

Wed 1st Feb 2023

GBS, known as Group B Strep, is a common bacteria found in the human body, but is the most common cause of severe infection suffered by babies in their first week of life.

During pregnancy and birth, there is a risk that the baby may become infected with GBS picking up the infection either in the uterus or during delivery.

Following birth, the baby usually shows signs of infection within the first seven days of life. Although rare, for babies who contract Strep B, the results can be serious leading to meningitis and septicaemia

A birth injury can occur when a GBS pregnancy is combined with a lack of care due to clinical negligence.

But how do you know if this was due to clinical negligence, and would you be eligible for compensation?

What is Strep B?

The Group B Streptococcus bacteria, Strep B, is common and carried in both men and women.

It is usually found in the digestive tract, rectum, urinary tract, or vagina. An estimated 20 to 40 per cent of women in the UK carry it. The bacteria are, in themselves, harmless to carry with most people not even aware they have it. Therefore, it is highly likely that a woman can carry it throughout a pregnancy none the wiser.

Women experiencing a GBS pregnancy can have healthy babies. In about one in 1,750 pregnancies there is a risk that Strep B will pass to the baby during delivery. In extremely rare cases, Strep B can cause miscarriage, premature births or stillbirths.

What does this mean for the baby?

Should a baby catch Strep B due to a GBS pregnancy, they can become very unwell. In some rare cases, these serious complications can be life-threatening.

Early-onset infection typically sees a baby becoming unwell within 12 to 48 hours after birth. This can cause meningitis, pneumonia, or sepsis. These serious conditions can lead to permanent disability such as cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, and serious learning disabilities.

The late-onset infection carries the same symptoms and sees a baby becoming unwell a week or more after they are born. Typically, it is caused by the baby encountering someone who has Strep B and is not related to the pregnancy.

Unfortunately, one in 19 babies who contract an early-onset infection will die, and one in 14 will result in a long-term disability. But, if treated quickly and efficiently, most babies will make a full recovery.

How is this caused by clinical negligence?

So, how does a baby catch a Strep B infection? It occurs when the baby is born and has direct contact with the infected mother. There are also a variety of factors which can put your baby at a higher risk of developing a GBS infection:

  • If your baby is premature
  • If you have had a previous baby affected by Strep B
  • If you have an elevated temperature during labour
  • If you have had a positive Strep B test
  • If your waters broke more than 24 hours before the delivery of the baby

All of these should be monitored and taken into consideration by the medical professionals treating you.

If the risks of GBS pregnancy are ignored or not explored further, this could lead to your baby becoming seriously ill.

In addition, if the baby’s symptoms go unnoticed and treatment is delayed, this may be cause for a clinical negligence claim. This is particularly the case where the medical team’s actions or lack of directly lead to disability or fatality.

The UK National Screening Committee does not recommend GBS testing for all pregnant women. They state many reasons why, however, the NHS say that Strep B is sometimes detected in other tests for infections.

If you are found to carry Strep B, you should be given intravenous (IV) antibiotics during labour. Antibiotic treatment is most effective during the labour process when it comes to preventing early-onset Strep B infections. The baby should also be monitored for at least 12 hours after they are born.

How Coodes can help

At Coodes, we can help you claim compensation for birth injuries to your child. This includes where injuries have arisen from infections that should have been identified such as Strep B.

Depending on who is affected and the age of the claimant, the time limits surrounding clinical negligence claims vary. More information can be found here.

There are very few law firms that can represent clients with Legal Aid. At Coodes, we are one of the only law firms in the whole of Cornwall that offers Legal Aid. This may be available for clinical negligence claims regarding infections and their resulting effects. You can find out more about it here.

Next steps

If you are concerned for your health or the health of your baby, please seek medical advice as soon as possible. Similarly, if you are currently pregnant and worried about the risks of GBS pregnancy, speak to your midwife or local GP.

If you have experienced substandard medical care during your pregnancy which resulted in your child becoming unwell, get in touch. Our experienced accredited clinical negligence solicitors are here and ready to help you.

Wed 1st Feb 2023

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