Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a bacterium present in around
However, it can lead to GBS disease and other complications, like GBS meningitis, in newborns. Older adults may also deal with GBS-related illnesses, particularly if they have other health issues, like diabetes, congestive heart failure, or cancer.
Keep reading to learn more about GBS, how it can lead to meningitis, and what questions you may want to ask your doctor.
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. We may use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms that have been historically used to gender people, especially in research. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this disease. Your doctor can better help you understand how your specific circumstances will translate into diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment.
GBS typically resides in the digestive and genital tracts.
GBS doesn’t always cause symptoms or sickness. For example, most people with GBS bacteria show no signs or symptoms.
When GBS does cause illness, it may lead to various infections. One possibility is meningitis, an infection of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal column. Other possible infections include:
Complications from GBS are rare in adults. Instead, issues like GBS-related sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis tend to impact newborns more than other age groups.
GBS meningitis in newborns
GBS bacteria can start to grow in newborns in the birth canal during labor and delivery. If a baby is exposed to GBS, meningitis or other complications may arise soon after birth.
Risk factors for newborns include:
- a birthing parent who tested positive for GBS bacteria in the weeks before delivery
- a birthing parent who had a fever during labor
- a birthing parent who had GBS urinary tract infections during pregnancy
- labor with ruptured membranes that lasted
18 hoursor longer
With newborns, there’s early onset and late onset GBS disease:
- Early onset: The infection (meningitis, sepsis, pneumonia) begins within 7 days of birth. Exposure to GBS in the birth canal or other contact with the birthing parent in delivery is usually the cause.
- Late onset: The infection, which is typically meningitis, begins a week to a few months after birth. Exposure to GBS from the mother or any other person who carries it can cause late onset GBS infection.
GBS meningitis in adults
Adults at higher risk for developing GBS meningitis and other GBS-related complications tend to be over 65 years old.
They may also have other health conditions that affect their overall health, including:
- heart disease
- cancer or previous cancer
- congestive heart failure
Early signs of GBS meningitis, a type of bacterial meningitis, tend to develop within
Meningitis symptoms in newborns include:
- trouble feeding
- bulging soft spot (fontanelle) on the head
- abnormal reflexes
Meningitis symptoms in adults include:
- stiff neck
- nausea and vomiting
- sensitivity to light
When to contact a doctor
It’s important to contact a doctor as soon as you see possible symptoms, particularly in newborns. While initial symptoms may be difficult to spot, they can develop quickly and progress to seizures, coma, or even death.
Contact a doctor if:
- signs or symptoms come on suddenly
- you experience a stiff neck, headache, or confusion
- your newborn has a fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher
- your newborn has a bulging fontanelle
While most people recover from GBS meningitis, some may experience serious complications. If left untreated or if not treated in time, GBS meningitis can lead to death in as little as a few hours.
Complications in infants
Complications in pregnant adults
Pregnant people don’t typically develop GBS meningitis. Instead, they may develop other GBS-related infections, like blood infections or post-delivery wound infections.
Other complications of GBS for pregnant people include:
- urinary tract infections
- preterm labor
Complications in non-pregnant adults
GBS meningitis and other related infections can be serious for older adults. About
If you or your child show signs of GBS meningitis, your doctor will likely order a blood test or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) test via spinal tap. Blood and spinal fluid are both sterile. If GBS is present in these fluids, it’s a sure sign of infection.
Results from these tests may take a few days.
Treatment for meningitis involves taking various antibiotics. The
Initial drugs may include ampicillin and gentamicin. Once an additional spinal tap shows the GBS has cleared, doctors may switch you or your child to penicillin G for another
Your doctor will adjust treatment as needed, depending on how your case or your child’s case is progressing or resolving.
Screening for GBS bacteria during late pregnancy (
If the bacteria is detected, your doctor will likely suggest treatment with intravenous (IV) antibiotics during labor. The drug of choice is generally penicillin, but your doctor may suggest other medications in cases of allergy.
Pregnant people who receive IV medications during labor have a
There’s currently no vaccine against GBS disease. Oral antibiotics are also not considered a good prevention method, as bacteria can grow back quickly.
If you have had GBS infections in the past or have other risk factors, speak with your doctor about any additional prevention measures that may help.
Most people recover from GBS meningitis. In newborns, the mortality rate is between
Babies born before 37 weeks tend to have the highest mortality rate: 20%.
Recurrence is also a possibility in older adults. Some
GBS bacteria don’t cause sickness in all people. Newborns and older adults with certain health conditions are at the highest risk.
That said, symptoms of GBS meningitis may come on suddenly and progress quickly. Without treatment, meningitis can lead to serious complications and even death.
If you or your newborn have symptoms, contact your doctor to find out the next steps. Treatment with medications can be effective, especially when started as soon as possible.