Test that could save a young life

Jo Haigh and Sophie Charlesworth and family pictured below.
Jo Haigh and Sophie Charlesworth and family pictured below.
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Two Yorkshire mums are joined by the same disease which had very different outcomes. Catherine Scott reports.

Yorkshire mums, Jo Haigh and Sophie Charlesworth, living less than 40 miles apart, have never met, though for both Mother’s Day is a bittersweet day.

Mother’s Day is meant to be a joyous celebration; of the home and all that your mother does for you.

It is Sophie Charlesworth’s first Mother’s Day with her little daughter who was born last July, having sadly lost her son Jake to group B Strep on Mother’s Day in 2011.

Jake arrived three weeks early and was a healthy 7lb and 11oz. But after just 10 minutes, he started to grunt, a symptom of group B Strep after birth and was whisked into special care.

He became very poorly and, shortly after, died. Jake had developed group B Strep infection.

“Jake would still be alive if I had known about group B Strep,” says Sophie. “It is fairly common and preventable with antibiotics.”

Group B Streptococcus is a bacterium that is carried by one in four pregnant women – it is usually harmless.

It can be passed from the mother to her baby around birth but, without preventative medicine, an estimated one out of every 300 babies born to women carrying GBS would become seriously ill – without preventative medicine, approximately 700 sick babies a year – of whom 
75 babies would die and another 40 would suffer serious ongoing health 
issues.

Although many western countries offer pregnant women testing for this, the 
UK doesn’t.

Jo Haigh was tested for Strep B but didn’t get the results until after her son Eddy was struck down with the disease at just five days old.

Eddy, who celebrates his eighth birthday today, was born on Mother’s Day 2005, five weeks early and weighing 5lbs 12oz in Sheffield.

“We had gone home and I was breast-feeding him when he turned blue.

“I called the midwife and she called the ambulance,” recalls Jo.

Eddy was put in intensive care and underwent all manner of tests as doctors feared he could be suffering meningitis.

But after they were allowed home after two weeks the Haighs discovered a letter saying Jo was a carrier of Strep B and what symptoms to look out for.

“I had no idea what Step B was although it seems I was tested for it but the hospitals obviously didn’t talk to each other. We are very lucky as the outcome could have been so much worse.”

Other countries have seen their incidence of group B Strep infection in newborns fall dramatically – in the US by 80 per cent – while the incidence in the UK has increased by 23 per cent between 2003 and 2011.

National charity, Group B Strep Support is calling on the Government to ensure better awareness and better prevention of life-threatening group B Strep infections in newborn babies.

At present, the recognised “gold standard” for testing for group B Strep in pregnancy is rarely available on the NHS. For both the Haighs and Charlesworths, their babies’ group B Strep infections could have been prevented if only testing had been routinely available.

Group B Strep Support Chief Executive, Jane Plumb MBE, whose middle child died from GBS infection, says, “Every mother-to-be should be informed about group B Strep during her antenatal care and, if she or her health professionals want her to be tested for it in pregnancy, the ‘gold standard’ test should be available on the NHS.

“The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ risk-based guidelines introduced in 2003 have not resulted in the falls in incidence all had hoped for. Being able to test pregnant women for group B Strep within the NHS will, I believe, make a significant impact on the numbers of babies suffering preventable GBS infection, and a 2011 survey shows that women want this.”

The “gold standard” test for group B Strep, which poses no risk to the mother or her baby, is available from a handful of NHS hospitals and privately at a cost of £35 per test (estimated NHS cost in 2009 of £10.63 per test7).

NHS trusts and private laboratories which offer the “gold standard” ECM test are listed at www.gbss.org.uk/test.

Serious risks of group B Strep

Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies. In the England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the reported number of these infections has increased from 229 to 281 between 2003 and 2011 (up by 23 per cent).

Group B Strep is a normal bacterium carried by up to 30 per cent of adults. It can be passed from mother to baby around labour. This causes no problems for most babies: for others it can be deadly, causing blood infection, pneumonia and meningitis.

Group B Strep Support is calling for information about group B Strep 
should be routinely given 
to all women as part of 
their antenatal care, sensitive testing for group B Strep should be made freely available within the NHS and available at the request of pregnant women and their health professionals.