Babies who have a group B streptococcal infection (GBS), such as meningitis (meningitis), can experience adverse effects for the rest of their lives. For example, they have an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. That’s according to research published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
Group B streptococci are bacteria that reside in the intestines or vagina. Usually this is harmless, but babies can come into contact with this during birth. Sometimes the baby becomes seriously ill. About 300,000 newborns worldwide get a GBS infection every year. The disease can usually be treated with antibiotics. However, little is known about the long-term effects for babies who survive the initial acute phase. Pediatrician and researcher Merijn Bijlsma of Amsterdam UMC: “This is the largest study into the long-term effects of GBS infections in babies. We analyzed data from nearly 25,000 children born between 1997 and 2017 in Denmark and the Netherlands. They were followed until the teenage age for this. “
The researchers wanted to know whether the children are at increased risk for a neurodevelopmental disorder. The control group consisted of children without GBS disease, who were born at a similar gestational age and were matched in gender and month and year of birth. The research now shows that children have a greater chance of developing neurodevelopmental disorders such as behavioral problems, motor impairments and disorders in cognitive functioning after experiencing a GBS disease.
They also need support at school or go to special education more often. For example, by the age of 10, eight percent of children who have GBS sepsis and 12 percent of children who have GBS meningitis go to special education. In the control group, this applies to only three percent of the children. Researcher Merel van Kassel: “These long-term effects show that these children and their families can cope with the consequences of this disease for a long time to come.”
Biomarkers and rapid tests
The study’s findings underscore the importance of prevention. Currently, women can receive preventive antibiotics during labor if they have risk factors, such as fever, in a baby with GBS disease. Existing guidelines prescribe this. But this approach falls short as many children still contract GBS disease. Merijn Bijlsma: “With the current guideline, many healthy women and children are currently being treated with antibiotics, while on the other hand many sick children are recognized too late. We need to create better risk profiles to complement the current guidelines. Rapid tests and new biomarkers may help us to get a better picture of the women and children who really need to be treated. ”
It has been known since the 1970s that maternal antibodies can protect the newborn against GBS. It is therefore likely that vaccination against GBS during pregnancy is an effective method of preventing streptococcal disease. Bijlsma and van Kassel have therefore set up the NOGBS study from Amsterdam UMC with the help of many pediatricians in the Netherlands, a national study to determine how much antibody against the GBS bacteria must be present at birth to protect the baby.
The study of the long-term outcomes after GBS disease in babies was carried out by a collaboration of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Aarhus University (Denmark), Amsterdam UMC and RIVM.
Source: Amsterdam UMC