Group B streptococcus (GBS) refers to the bacteria Streptococcus agalactiae. This germ may cause various infections in people of all age groups. However, infections of newborns are of particular concern due to the infections' severity and potential to be life-threatening. Fortunately, through screenings and preventative treatments, this risk has been decreased dramatically.
Neonatal infants who are exposed to this strep bug through the lining of the uterus and the birth canal are at risk for infection during the first seven days of life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, exposure after birth may lead to illness between seven and 90 days of age. These infants are at risk for sepsis, more commonly known as blood poisoning. Characteristics of this condition may include poor feeding, lethargy, fever, increased heart rate and respirations, or trouble breathing. A GBS infection may also lead to pneumonia which would cause fever, increased breathing rate, cough and respiratory distress. Meningitis, an infection of the membranes lining the brain and spinal cord, is also a known risk of exposure to GBS. This usually presents with decreased activity and level of consciousness, fever, neck stiffness and possibly coma.
Many women are colonized with Group B strep, which means it is present in or on their bodies, but does not cause symptoms or problems. However, at times, this bacteria may cause an active infection. Most often, these infections start in the bladder or urinary tract. This may cause burning with urination, abdominal pain, back pain and fever. The GBS may ascend the vagina into the uterus and cause amnionitis, or an infection of the womb. This could result in abdominal pain, fever and vaginal bleeding, and poses a risk to the fetus.
Group B streptococcus does not typically cause symptoms in healthy adults. However, the Minnesota Department of Health notes that those with conditions that may impair the immune system, such as diabetes or cancer, are at higher risk, as are the frail elderly. GBS infection in an adult may lead to a urinary tract infection, with resultant irritative voiding symptoms, fever, and abdominal or back pain. It may also cause a skin or joint infection, with symptoms such as redness and pain, swelling, pus drainage and fever. Pneumonia is also possible, with symptoms such as fever, productive cough, weakness and shortness of breath. GBS is also a rare cause of meningitis in adults. Symptoms could include fever, neck pain and stiffness, headache, and confusion or altered levels of alertness. Also rare, but possible, is an invasion into the bloodstream. Fever, fatigue, increased heart rate and decreased blood pressure could signal sepsis in an adult.