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Gorleston mum’s frustration at setback in hunt for routine Group B Strep screenings

PUBLISHED: 09:06 25 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:06 25 March 2017

Melanie Gilson with her daughter Isla.
Isla contracted a condition called Group B strep shortly after birth. 

Picture: James Bass

Melanie Gilson with her daughter Isla. Isla contracted a condition called Group B strep shortly after birth. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2015

As mum-of-two Melanie Gilson watched her daughter Isla getting reading for her first day of school, she couldn’t help but reflect.

For the main thought on her mind, was just how close she came to losing her first born four years earlier, and just how thankful she is that she is still in her life.

Within just 24-hours of her birth, little Isla contracted a condition called Group B Streptococcus, an infection which affects newborn babies and can be fatal.

The condition can in some cases lead to sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia and is carried by 20-30pc of the population.

Isla was one of the lucky ones, who survived the scare and has made a full recovery, however, not a day goes by when Mrs Gilson, 28 of Gorleston, does not feel fortunate to have her.

She said: “When I found out at the time it was such a shock to hear. I didn’t know what Group B strep was and now it was threatening to take my daughter. It came so out of blue.”

Isla is now four-and-a-half and Mrs Gilson has gone on to have a second daughter, one-year-old Evalyn, but is passionate about making more people are of the condition.

Therefore, she was frustrated to learn that the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) had this week recommended to the government not to introduce routine screening of pregnant women for the infection, which is treated with by antibiotics, which can also have side afffects.

She said: “I think it is scandalous really. When you go to visit midwives during pregnancy you hear about lots of different conditions, but never much about this - however in other countries around the world it is scanned for routinely.

“It is a serious thing that is often made out to be rare - but it certainly isn’t rare enough. I feel it is purely through luck that Isla is okay now, however, had routine checks been on offer we would have found out about it much sooner than we did.”

Mrs Gilson’s frustration has been echoed by leading baby charity Group B Strep Support, which works to raise awareness of the condition.

Jane Plumb, chief executive of the charity, said: “The government will be making the wrong decision if it accepts the recommendations against a Group B Strep screening programme.

“There is a huge amount of international evidence demonstrating the benefits of screening pregnant women for group B Strep. For example, since the USA first recommended screening in 1996, the incidence of group B Strep infection in babies has halved without concomitant harms. Yet the UK has seen a rise of 30% since 2000, despite our risk-based prevention strategy introduced in 2003.”

The UKNSC recommendation said: “It is not clear whether benefits associated with screening outweigh the harms for the majority of the population.”

Group B Streptococcus is a common form of bacteria which is present in both males and females - which is usually harmless.

However, in a very small number of cases it can be passed from a mother to a baby during labour which in some cases can result in illness - sometimes leading to developing such conditions as meningitis and pneumonia.

When occurring in the first seven days of life, it is known as Early Onset GBS (EOGBS) infection.

It is suggested that offering screening at 35 to 37 weeks of pregancy will detect the bacteria in the expectant mother, allowing them to be treated with antibiotics at the start of labour to avoid EOGBS.

Research from Group B Strep Support has indicated that two babies a day develop Group B Strep infections, with one a week dying from it. The bacteria is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies

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