In newborns, symptoms of group B strep diseases, like fever and lethargy, typically appear within their first week of life. Adults typically have no symptoms, unless their infection is severe.

Group B Streptococcus (group B strep) is a type of bacteria that often lives in the human body without causing any problems or symptoms. But when newborns are exposed to group B strep, they can develop life threatening infections.

The infections caused by group B strep — known as group B strep diseases — typically affect infants during their first week of life but can develop weeks later. Symptoms can include fever, irritability, and difficulty feeding.

Group B strep diseases can also affect vulnerable adults, causing infection in many parts of the body.

Here’s what you need to know about the signs and symptoms of group B strep diseases in newborns, pregnant people, and adults.

Most infants born to parents with group B strep infections will be born healthy. But group B strep can be passed on during labor and delivery.

Infants typically develop group B strep within their first week of life, often within the first 24 hours. But symptoms of late-onset group B strep can appear weeks to months later.

Infants with late-onset group B strep may acquire the bacteria during labor and delivery, nursing, or from community spread.

Signs of group B strep infection in newborns may include:

  • fever
  • irritability
  • lethargy
  • breathing difficulties
  • bluish tint to the skin
  • difficulty feeding

Who gets group B strep?

Some people are at a greater risk of group B strep diseases than others. Newborns and adults over the age of 65 are at a higher risk of developing a serious illness from group B strep.

Adults of all ages may also be at risk if they have certain medical conditions that compromise the immune system, such as:

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It’s estimated that 1 in 4 pregnant people carry group B strep bacteria. Most of these people will experience no signs or symptoms of infection.

For this reason, doctors typically recommend testing toward the end of pregnancy (usually at 36 or 37 weeks). This is done by taking cotton swab samples of the vagina and rectum.

About half of birthing parents carrying group B strep will pass the bacteria to their babies. Still, only about 1% to 2% of those infants will develop early-onset group B strep infections.

Can group B strep cause vaginal discharge?

Due to a lack of symptoms, most pregnant people with group B strep don’t know they have it. Group B strep bacteria commonly live in the genital and gastrointestinal tracts without causing any problems.

There is no evidence that the bacteria cause vaginal discharge.

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When group B strep grows out of control, it can lead to infections affecting various body parts. Group B strep disease symptoms will depend on which part of the body is affected.

  • Bacteremia: When group B strep causes a bloodstream infection, you might experience fever, fatigue, and body aches, as well as low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and confusion.
  • Bone and joint infections: Along with fever and aches, you might also develop pain and rashes along the specific affected bones and joints.
  • Meningitis: Bacterial meningitis causes inflammation around the brain and spine, which may lead to symptoms such as sudden headache, fever, and neck stiffness.
  • Pneumonia: Pneumonia is a lung infection that may cause severe cough, excess mucus production, and other breathing difficulties.
  • Sepsis: Also known as septic shock, sepsis is your body’s reaction to a severe infection and may cause confusion, rapid heart rate, and breathing changes.
  • Skin infections: These are among the most common manifestations of group B strep and may cause rashes, swelling, or painful areas of skin, which may drain pus.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI): UTIs may cause pain or burning during urination, frequent urination, bloody urine, and pain around your kidneys.

The best way to prevent group B strep in newborns is to screen for the bacteria during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends universal testing for group B strep at 36 or 37 weeks.

If you are positive for group B strep, you will be given IV antibiotics during labor. Treatment for group B strep is typically withheld until you go into labor due to the risk of the bacteria coming back.

Oral antibiotics and antibiotics taken in advance of labor have proven ineffective at preventing the transmission of group B strep during labor and delivery.

Penicillin is typically the antibiotic of choice unless you are allergic. If you are allergic, doctors may recommend a penicillin-allergy test to determine the severity of the allergy.

The doctor may choose penicillin, a related antibiotic, or a different antibiotic based on those results.

If you go into labor without being tested for group B strep, doctors will decide whether preventive antibiotics are right for you based on other risk factors.

Generally, group B strep diseases are treated with antibiotics. But a doctor’s treatment approach will depend on the location of the infection.

Group B strep disease can cause serious illness, especially in certain age groups and those with underlying medical conditions. In some cases, hospitalization is required. When left untreated, group B strep may be fatal.

Group B strep is bacteria that can cause infections in newborns and vulnerable adults, some of which may be life threatening. In newborns, group B strep disease can cause symptoms such as fever, lethargy, and feeding difficulties.

Symptoms typically arise within one week of birth, but signs of late-onset group B strep may not show up for several weeks.

Group B strep commonly lives in the body and rarely causes symptomatic infections in healthy adults. While anyone can develop group B strep disease, newborns, older adults, and those with certain medical conditions are at a higher risk of serious illness.

Screening during pregnancy can help prevent the transmission of group B strep during labor and delivery.