Mother welcomes ‘huge leap’ forward in fighting infection which kills one baby every week
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:41 19 December 2017
Archant Norfolk © 2015
All pregnant women will be automatically given information for the first time on a condition which kills dozens of babies every year.
In what campaigners have called a “huge leap” every pregnant woman will now be provided with a leaflet warning them of the dangers of Group B Streptococcal Disease (GBS).
GBS is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies but many pregnant women feel inadequately informed about the illness.
On average two babies a day develop the infection, with one a week dying and one a week being left with life-changing disability.
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Melanie Gilson’s daughter Isla contracted GBS in August 2012 when she was just hours old, which resulted in meningitis.
Isla survived but 28-year-old Mrs Gilson and her husband Richard, who live in Gorleston, were shocked they had never heard of the condition.
“I was numbed with fear,” Mrs Gilson, a healthcare assistant at the James Paget University Hospital, said.
“I had been expecting a perfectly healthy baby and then you hear the word meningitis and instantly think of death.”
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She said during her pregnancy, she had been offered no information or leaflets on GBS. And she welcomed today’s announcement.
“Its a huge leap, it’s fantastic,” she said. “Of course the goal is to have routine testing but this is going to save a lot of babies with women having an informed choice.”
Tests to detect, and then prevent, GBS in pregnant women are offered routinely in many other countries – but not the UK. However Mrs Gilson, who is also mother to one-year-old Evelyn, said this was the first step.
MORE: Gorleston mum’s frustration at setback in hunt for routine Group B Strep screenings
“Mothers whose children are affected all say the same thing, ‘I had never heard of it’. At least now they will have the information so they can decide whether to pay for the test or not,” she added.
It is hoped the step will help to save the lives of babies like Blayze Aldred who died at just six weeks old.
Blaze’s mother, Courtney Parker, from Halesworth, set up The Blayze’ing Star Charity in his memory to raise awareness of strep B and pay for women to be sent at-home tests for the bacteria.
“Looking back at my pregnancy I did have some of the signs of strep B,” she said. “But I’d never thought anything of it.”
When Blayze was born in September 2015 all seemed well. But at four weeks old he was rushed to hospital with a suspected lung infection. This then changed to meningitis and eventually Miss Parker and her partner Brett Aldred were told Blaze had strep B.
Miss Parker had never heard of strep B, and had no idea she carried it.
MORE: Blayze’s charity continues to raise awareness of rare deadly infection
Blayze developed meningitis, septicaemia and went into septic shock, with tests also showing his brain had swollen.
Doctors told the family there was very little chance of Blayze surviving the infections, and if he did, he would have incredibly severe brain damage.
He was christened at the hospital and died a few days later on November 9.
Since, Miss Parker has channelled her grief into her charity and sent out more than 700 tests to expectant mothers - with around a quarter telling her they had tested positive.
Most women carrying the bacteria have healthy babies, but if they test positive they can be given antibiotics during labour to stop it being passed onto their baby.
In October, Miss Parker was crowned the overall winner of this year’s Stars of Lowestoft and Waveney Awards for her efforts.
Jane Plumb MBE, chief executive of Group B Strep Support said: “We are delighted to be working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to raise awareness of group B strep among pregnant women. For the first time, this new joint leaflet will provide clear, concise and consistent information to all pregnant women throughout the NHS to help improve knowledge and awareness, as well as reduce the mixed messages that are sometimes given about GBS.”