Medical Negligence

New study reveals higher rate of GBS infection in infants of Black and Asian ethnicity

Our experts discuss the worrying new findings and the risks of GBS infection for new-born babies.

20 September 2022

Woman with baby showing book

A new study, led by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), has found that rates of Group B Streptococcal (GBS) infection are significantly higher in infants of Black and Asian ethnicity, compared to infants of White ethnicity.

The study used national laboratory data and NHS hospital records for England from 2016 to 2020, and reached the following findings:

There were 2512 cases infant invasive GBS in England between 2016 and 2020, of which 65.3% were early on-set and 34.8% were late-onset

The overall rate of invasive GBS infection was 51% higher for infants of Black ethnicity, compared to infants of White ethnicity

The overall rate of GBS Disease was 28% higher for infants of Asian ethnicity, compared to infants of White ethnicity

As can be seen from these findings, this population-wide analysis has revealed significant differences in GBS rates amongst Black and minority ethnic infants in England (excluding infants of Indian heritage).

At Slater and Gordon, our medical negligence lawyers recognise that the findings of the new UKHSA study show new-born babies born to Black and Asian mothers could be at higher risk of developing Group B Strep. Further research is now needed to understand why these racial disparities exist so that measures can be put in place to eliminate these differences.

Speaking on the findings, our specialist lawyer Alisha Puri, said: “The Group B Strep Support Charity’s campaign for all hospitals to enrol in the GBS3 trial needs to be at the top of the healthcare agenda so that we can see whether testing all pregnant women for GBS, reduces the risk of infection in new-born babies. At the very least, Black and Asian mothers who could be at higher risk of passing GBS to their babies should be offered the opportunity to test, alongside guidance and information about GBS as a minimum. Now that the results of this study have been published, if nothing is done, it would be another example of a discriminatory maternity healthcare system failing Black and Asian women and their babies.”

What is GBS?

Group B strep is a common bacteria found in both men and women, affecting around three out of ten women. In the majority of cases, the bacteria is harmless to healthy adults, but if passed on by a pregnant mother to her unborn baby, GBS infection has the potential to be dangerous. It’s the most common cause of life-threatening infection in new-born babies in the UK, and of meningitis in babies under three months old.

On average, two babies a day in the UK develop GBS infection. This results in one baby every week dying from the infection, and one infant being left with a life-changing disability as a result of GBS each week.

Administering antibiotics during labour can reduce the risk of a new-born baby developing GBS infection by 90%. The UK doesn’t currently routinely test pregnant mothers for GBS. Instead, the UK follows a risk-based strategy, where only pregnant mothers presenting risk factors for early onset GBS infection are offered antibiotics during labour.

Raising awareness of GBS

Slater and Gordon is a proud partner of Group B Strep Support (GBSS), the world’s leading charity working to eradicate group B Strep infection in babies. Their work involves actively campaigning to improve awareness of group B Strep infection and for the introduction of effective and accurate testing.

In February 2021, the charity published a report stating that nearly 90% of hospitals in the UK aren’t following national guidelines and using the recommended test for GBS. The important guidance is in place to protect new-born babies from the potentially fatal effects of GBS infection, and it’s disappointing to see that it’s not being followed.

As well as expert lawyers specialising in the field of medical negligence, we also have trained nurses and midwives on our team with the knowledge and expertise to provide the best service possible for our clients. If you or your baby have suffered in any way from GBS infection due to negligent medical care, our experts are here to help you with sensitivity and compassion, and will fight for the compensation that you deserve. Call our medical negligence experts today on 0330 041 5869 to help you understand whether you have a claim. Alternatively, you can contact us online here.

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