Maternally Carried Bacteria May Put Newborns At Unseen Risk

Maternally Carried Bacteria May Put Newborns At Unseen Risk
Ensuring a safer and healthier start for the newest members of our society.

The revelation of newborn babies at risk from bacteria commonly carried by mothers underscores the urgency of reevaluating screening practices and adopting proactive measures.

Written by saumya pandey |Updated : December 4, 2023 10:01 AM IST

Welcoming a newborn into the world is a joyous occasion, yet recent research underscores a hidden peril the risk newborns face from bacteria commonly carried by their mothers. This revelation adds a layer of complexity to the delicate first moments of life and prompts a reevaluation of screening and preventive measures. Streptococcus agalactiae, also known as Group B Streptococcus (GBS), is found in the genital tract of approximately one in five women. GBS in the placenta, identified in around 5% of women before labor, poses a potential risk to newborns.

GBS-Related Sepsis Risk

GBS can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening infection response, in newborns, resulting in an estimated 50,000 stillbirths and up to 100,000 infant deaths globally each year. Despite its treatability with antibiotics, the insidious nature of GBS lies in its stealth carriers may remain unaware unless screened.

New Findings On Neonatal Unit Admissions

A study, published in Nature Microbiology, investigated the link between placental GBS presence and neonatal unit admissions. Researchers re-analyzed data from a prior study involving 436 infants, confirming their findings in a second cohort of 925 pregnancies. The analysis suggests that placental GBS is associated with a two- to three-fold increased risk of neonatal unit admission. Shockingly, one in 200 babies admitted with sepsis is linked to GBS, almost ten times higher than previous estimates. Current diagnostic testing identified GBS in less than one in five cases.

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Global Screening Approaches

In the USA, all pregnant women undergo routine GBS screening, and positive cases are treated with antibiotics. In the UK, testing is limited, primarily for women facing complications or with additional risk factors.

Importance Of Universal Screening

The research challenges the traditional UK approach, emphasizing the need for universal GBS screening. The ongoing randomized controlled trial in the UK assesses screening and antibiotic treatment for GBS. Researchers have developed an ultrasensitive PCR test for GBS detection, amplifying minute DNA or RNA amounts for accurate screening. A patent for this test has been filed, providing a potential breakthrough in GBS detection.

Changing Risk/Benefit Balance

Dr. Francesca Gaccioli underscores the study's impact, suggesting that the higher admission rates to neonatal units due to GBS-related sepsis redefine the risk/benefit balance of universal screening.

Cytokine Storm Indication

Analysis of umbilical cord serum revealed increased cytokine levels in over a third of cases, indicating a potential 'cytokine storm.' This extreme immune response could contribute to the elevated risk of GBS-related diseases in newborns.


The study sheds light on the underreported risks associated with GBS in newborns, urging a reevaluation of screening practices. The development of an ultrasensitive test offers promising prospects for improved detection and immediate neonatal care, emphasizing the necessity of a proactive approach to address this hidden threat.