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Rapid Bedside Test to Protect Newborns from Life-Threatening Illnesses

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 04 Jan 2024
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Image: A research project aiming to protect babies from deadly infection has reached a major milestone (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)
Image: A research project aiming to protect babies from deadly infection has reached a major milestone (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Group B Streptococcus (GBS), a bacterial strain, is the leading cause of severe infections in newborns in the UK. Around one in four pregnant women in the UK are carriers of GBS, often unknowingly, and during childbirth, there's a 50% chance of transmitting the bacteria to the baby. While most exposed infants remain healthy, approximately one in 1,750 will develop early-onset GBS infections, including sepsis, pneumonia, or meningitis, which can have severe consequences. The UK currently employs a 'risk factor-based screening' approach, providing antibiotics during labor to women identified with GBS during pregnancy or those with a previous baby affected by GBS. However, this strategy fails to detect many GBS carriers, with about 65% of early-onset GBS infections in newborns occurring in babies whose mothers had no identified risk factors. Now, a research project is examining the potential of a rapid bedside test for safeguarding newborns from life-threatening illnesses transmitted during birth.

The GBS3 study, conducted by the University of Nottingham (Nottingham, UK), has so far recruited over 1,100 pregnant women across the UK. The research aims to determine whether universally screening pregnant women for GBS can reduce the incidence of newborn infections. The study compares two methods: a test during a prenatal visit around 36 weeks of pregnancy and a quick bedside test conducted as labor begins that delivers results in about 40 minutes. Upon positive results, antibiotics are administered to protect the newborn from potential illness. The study, set to recruit until March 2024, is being conducted in 71 hospitals across England, Wales, and Scotland, out of which 17 sites are equipped for rapid testing.

“This is the first trial of its kind in the world and the results will help to determine whether routine testing should be introduced in the UK,” said Mr. Sachchidananda Maiti, consultant obstetrician, who is leading the study in the North Manchester maternity unit. “Identifying women with GBS with greater accuracy and treating them with antibiotics at the optimum time, could prevent approximately 40 newborn deaths and 25 cases of disability in the UK each year.”

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