A survey of more than 2,000 pregnant women has shown that a large number of people are unaware of the dangers of group B Streptococcus, while 97% believe a reliable test for the newborn infection should be made more widely available.
The research, conducted among with Bounty's 'Word of Mum' Research Panel, showed that 44% of women had not heard of the infection which is the leading cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborn babies. One in 10 of these sick babies will die and a further one in 20 of the survivors will suffer long-term physical or mental disabilities.
Of those who had heard of group B Strep, 33% of women had heard about it from a midwife, GP practice or antenatal class, 67% had heard of it from other sources, almost half of these from a pregnancy book or magazine.
'Women want to be informed'
Jane Plumb, chief executive of national charity Group B Strep Support, said: "These latest data confirm what we hear all the time – women want to be informed about group B Strep, offered a reliable test in pregnancy and, when group B Strep is found or other risk factors arise, offered preventative antibiotics in labour. And they simply can't understand why this happens in other countries but not here.
"To think that in 2013 women aren't even being told about what is recognised as the most common cause of severe infection in newborn babies is astounding."
Group B Strep infection in babies is up to 90% preventable when antibiotics are given in labour to women found to carry group B Strep by sensitive testing at 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy. This is standard practice in many developed countries.
Countries which routinely offer antenatal testing for group B Strep have seen 71-86% reductions in the incidence of these devastating infections in newborn babies, while in the UK the incidence rose in the decade to 2010 by 46% (0.28 per 1,000 live births in 2000, 0.41 per 1,000 live births in 2010).
Prevention strategy 'not working'
The UK used a risk-based prevention strategy, introduced in 2003, and sensitive tests for group B Strep carriage are not widely available within the NHS. Plumb suggests that the data shows this strategy isn't having the desired effect.
"Just why health professionals aren't telling pregnant women about group B Strep remains a mystery. If they're concerned that it will worry them, this new data suggest otherwise," she said.
“When asked whether knowing about GBS affected their enjoying their pregnancy, nearly 9 out of 10 said it would not. Women are clearly keen both to be told about GBS and offered testing."