Strep B Test

What is a group B strep test?

Strep B, also known as group B strep (GBS), is a type of bacteria commonly found in the digestive tract, urinary tract, and genital area. It rarely causes symptoms or problems in adults but can be deadly to newborns.

In women, GBS is mostly found in the vagina and rectum. So a pregnant woman who is infected can pass the bacteria to her baby during labor and delivery. GBS can cause pneumonia, meningitis, and other serious illnesses in a baby. GBS infections are the leading cause of death and disability in newborns.

A group B strep test checks for GBS bacteria. If the test shows that a pregnant woman has GBS, she can take antibiotics during labor to protect her baby from infection.

Other names: group B streptococcus, group B beta-hemolytic streptococcus, streptococcus agalactiae, beta-hemolytic strep culture

What is it used for?

A group B strep test is most often used to look for GBS bacteria in pregnant women. Most pregnant women are tested as part of routine prenatal screening. It may also be used to test infants who show signs of infection.

Why do I need a group B strep test?

You may need a strep B test if you are pregnant. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends GBS testing for all pregnant women. Testing is usually done in the 36th or 37th week of pregnancy. If you go into labor earlier than 36 weeks, you may be tested at that time.

A baby may need a group B strep test if he or she has symptoms of infection. These include:

  • High fever
  • Trouble with feeding
  • Trouble breathing
  • Lack of energy (hard to wake up)

What happens during a group B strep test?

If you are pregnant, your health care provider may order a swab test or a urine test.

For a swab test, you will lie on your back on an exam table. Your health care provider will use a small cotton swab to take a sample of cells and fluids from your vagina and rectum.

For a urine test, you will most likely be told to use the “clean catch method” to ensure your sample is sterile. It includes the following steps.

  • Wash your hands.
  • Clean your genital area with a cleansing pad given to you by your provider. To clean, open your labia and wipe from front to back.
  • Start to urinate into the toilet.
  • Move the collection container under your urine stream.
  • Collect at least an ounce or two of urine into the container, which should have markings to indicate the amounts.
  • Finish urinating into the toilet.
  • Return the sample container as instructed by your health care provider.

If your baby needs testing, a provider may do a blood test or a spinal tap.

For a blood test, a health care professional will use a small needle to take a blood sample from your baby’s heel. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. Your baby may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out.

A spinal tap, also known as a lumbar puncture, is a test that collects and looks at spinal fluid, the clear liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. During the procedure:

  • A nurse or other health care provider will hold your baby in a curled-up position.
  • A health care provider will clean your baby’s back and inject an anesthetic into the skin, so your baby won’t feel pain during the procedure. The provider may put a numbing cream on your baby’s back before this injection.
  • The provider may also give your baby a sedative and/or pain reliever to help him or her better tolerate the procedure.
  • Once the area on the back is completely numb, your provider will insert a thin, hollow needle between two vertebrae in the lower spine. Vertebrae are the small backbones that make up the spine.
  • The provider will withdraw a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid for testing. This will take about five minutes.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t any special preparations for group B strep tests.

Are there any risks to the test?

There is no risk to you from a swab or urine test. Your baby may have slight pain or bruising after a blood test, but that should go away quickly. Your baby will likely feel some pain after a spinal tap, but that shouldn’t last too long. There is also a small risk of infection or bleeding after a spinal tap.

What do the results mean?

If you are pregnant and results show you have GBS bacteria, you will be given antibiotics intravenously (by IV) during labor, at least four hours before delivery. This will prevent you from passing the bacteria to your baby. Taking antibiotics earlier in your pregnancy is not effective, because the bacteria can grow back very quickly. It’s also more effective to take antibiotics through your vein, rather than by mouth.

You may not need antibiotics if you are having a planned delivery by Cesarean section (C-section). During a C-section, a baby is delivered through the mother’s abdomen rather than vaginally. But you still should be tested during pregnancy because you may go into labor before your scheduled C-section.

If your baby’s results show a GBS infection, he or she will be treated with antibiotics. If your provider suspects a GBS infection, he or she may treat your baby before test results are available. This is because GBS can cause serious illness or death.

If you have questions about your results or your baby’s results, talk to your health care provider.

Is there anything else I need to know about a group B strep test?

Strep B is one type of strep bacteria. Other forms of strep cause different types of infections. These include strep A, which causes strep throat, and streptococcus pneumoniae, which causes the most common type of pneumonia. Streptococcus pneumonia bacteria can also cause infections of the ear, sinuses, and bloodstream.

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