Calls for Strep B tests for pregnant women

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Strep B campaign leaflet

A woman who lost her unborn baby as a result of the Strep B infection has called for routine testing to detect the presence of the bacteria.

Group B streptococcus is a bacteria that can be passed between the mother and child during a natural birth.

It is the most common cause of blood infections and meningitis in newborns and often causes the death of the baby.

Gillian Boyd said her pregnancy had been perfectly normal up until her baby was stillborn at full-term.

She said when midwives told her they could not detect her baby's heart-beat "my world was falling apart, but I still didn't want to believe them.

"After an actual scan a doctor then confirmed there was no heart-beat and that Erin had already died.

"After that they gave me some gas and air and I knew at that stage that I had to deliver a baby who wasn't going to cry."

It was only after a post mortem examination that she found out her baby had died due an infection caused by Group B streptococcus.

"I know that if this bacteria is detected in a pregnant woman, that it can be easily prevented," Gillian said.

"They could prevent more if a test was done."

Health Minister Edwin Poots said it was understandable that people were calling for screening after such tragedies.

"However, the UK National Screening Committee, the expert body which advises the four UK health departments on screening programmes, has kept under review the evidence for screening for Group B Streptococcal (GBS) infection, and following the most recent review in 2009 the NSC reaffirmed its advice that screening for GBS should not be offered.

"I will continue to keep this situation under close review."

Anne Mackie, director of programmes at the UK National Screening Committee, said the efficacy of introducing a screening programme for Group B Streptococcus had not been proven.

"The UK NSC found that the current recommended test for GBS carriage cannot reliably identify those women who would have an affected baby," she said.

"This could result in a large number of women unnecessarily receiving intravenous antibiotics during labour, and there are potential risks associated with this."

South Belfast MP Dr Alasdair McDonnell said testing would be expensive, but worthwhile for families affected.

"It's one of these balancing acts that we've got into in the health service," he said.

"It makes perfect sense to test, but you're in a situation where there's something like 75 babies a year are affected yet it would cost probably something in the region of millions of pounds to do the test.

"But for the families involved it would be a very sensible and worthwhile investment. I happen to personally feel that women should be tested."