Observations Medicine and the Media

Streptococcus B in pregnancy: to screen or not to screen?

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2803 (Published 18 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2803
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}margaretmccartney.com

The media are pushing for universal screening of pregnant women for group B streptococcus and treatment with antibiotics, but their stories often don’t mention the potential harms, says Margaret McCartney

“Why won’t Britain act to prevent biggest killer of newborns? The £10 (€12; $16) test that could save babies from death,” read the Daily Mail’s headline last month.1 The tragic story of a baby called Ewan followed. He had died from group B streptococcus (GBS) eight hours after his birth. “‘It’s hard to put into words the pain we felt at losing our first child without ever having experienced the joy of getting to know him. It was like someone ripping out our hearts.’” The article went on, “We are one of the few developed countries not to screen for the infection. A third of women carry the bacterium, which is largely harmless to adults . . . One in 300 exposed to it will develop the infection.” The bottom line from the Mail was that “Spotting it early and treatment with antibiotics during labour or in the first few hours after childbirth can be life saving and …

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