A group of researchers from the UK, affiliated with the World Health Organization, are warning about a common bacteria that could seriously affect pregnant women and their babies. The group released a report this week that estimates that infection by group B streptococcus was linked to over half a million premature births and 46,000 stillbirths. These numbers are so alarming that the WHO and its partners have called for a maternal vaccine against the bacterial disease.
The round bacteria known as Group B streptococcus or Group B strain are often found in single-line chains. There are seven main groups of streptococcus bacteria. However, Streptococcus galactiae is the only known species. This bacteria is found in the vaginas and guts of about a third of people (and some animals) and rarely causes illness.
However, bacteria can spread to other parts of your body during pregnancy. It can also pass to the baby in the womb, or to the newborn during birth or the first few weeks of life. Premature delivery can be increased by a parent with a bacterial infection of the urinary tract. However, infections of the amniotic fluid and placenta increase the likelihood of stillbirths, premature births, premature deaths and congenital defects. Sepsis can be fatal in newborns with the bacteria. This is a condition that causes widespread inflammation and overwhelms the body.
Since the beginning, newborn sepsis has been caused by this infection. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, WHO and others attempted to quantify the global effects of the infection in 2017. The group B strep could cause around 150,000 stillbirths or newborn deaths each year, according to the researchers. The new report was compiled by the same groups. It is the first time that premature births have been accounted for in a study. These not only increase the risk of death, but also cause long-term complications such as stunted development or congenital defects.
They estimated that around 20 million pregnant women in 2020 had been colonized by Group B strep. This puts them at high risk of contracting a serious infection. They were able to estimate stillbirths and new borns for 2020 about the same amount as in 2017. They now believe that 518,000 premature births were caused by these infections in 2020. Nearly 400,000 infants were infected by the bacteria, with approximately 40,000 suffering from neurological impairment. Although the bacteria can be found anywhere, it is most prevalent in Africa, where pregnant women and their children are low- to medium-income countries.
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Phillipp Lambach, medical officer at the WHO's Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals division, stated that Group B strep poses a serious and under-appreciated threat to newborn survival and well-being.
Prophylactic antibiotics are now available to pregnant women who have tested positive for Group B Strep. This prevents the possibility of newborn transmission. Experts warn that antibiotics can't prevent all cases of stillbirth or premature births associated with the infection and they have side effects.
According to the report authors, the best long-term solution for Group B strep is a vaccine that can easily be administered to pregnant women early in their pregnancy. A vaccine that could be given to 70% of pregnant women would prevent over 170,000 births and prevent 50,000 deaths per year. They add that a vaccine would likely cost less than a traditional one, depending on how expensive it is. Despite the existence of several experimental vaccine candidates, research efforts have not been fruitful for many decades.
The world has yet to deliver a vaccine for maternal vaccination, which could save hundreds of thousands of lives in the future. This is 30 years after the first proposal. In the WHO statement Joy Lawn, the director of the Maternal Adolescent Reproductive & Child Health Center, stated that now is the right time to take action to protect the most vulnerable people in the world with a GBS vaccine.