MP and families make Strep B screening call for mothers

William Bell-Caisley Ruth Caisley's son William is 17 now but has been left with disabilities caused by Strep B

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It's a bacteria that lives harmlessly in many of us, but for newborn babies it can be lethal.

Group B Streptococcus infection kills around 40 babies every year and leaves a further 25 with serious disabilities.

Ruth Caisley, from Haltwhistle, Northumberland, is one mother who still lives with its devastating results.

Her son William is now 17, but the Strep B infection left him with cerebral palsy and other learning disabilities. He is unlikely to ever live independently.

It was only years after William's birth that Ruth Caisley discovered that a simple treatment of antibiotics during her pregnancy could have cleared the infection and prevented her passing it on to her son.

She is now one of a number of parents campaigning for a screening programme for pregnant women.

She said: "When I look at the children who William started school with, they're now building independent lives. William will never get that chance.

Start Quote

Ruth Caisley

He should be going to college, and having girlfriends, but for the want of a few antibiotics that'll never happen”

End Quote Ruth Caisley Mother affected by Strep B

"He should be going to college, and having girlfriends, but for the want of a few antibiotics that'll never happen.

"I love him to bits but if I could go back in time and change that tomorrow I would."

Screening programme

Vikki and Peter Craig, from Rowlands Gill, Gateshead, also believe mothers should be screened.

Their daughter Alice Ellen is approaching her 1st birthday, but last March she also became infected by Strep B soon after birth.

They endured days of agony while the premature baby was treated with antibiotics.

Thankfully, Alice has suffered no long term ill effects, but the couple were shocked when they discovered just how serious the infection could have been.

Vikki Craig said: "Because I had a fibroid, I was in hospital being scanned every four weeks. It was just ludicrous to think that I was there that regularly and yet I could have had this blood test that could have picked up this infection."

Peter Craig said: "The cost of the test and antibiotics do seem like a very small price to pay for something that has an opportunity to prevent a horrible situation."

Outweigh the benefits
Alice Ellen Craig with parents Vikki and Peter Craig Baby Alice Ellen Craig fell ill with a Strep B infection moments after she was born

The Department of Health though does not believe a screening programme would be necessary or effective.

It's advised by the UK National Screening Committee, which looks at what conditions could be monitored.

During a review in November 2012, it looked at the evidence on whether screening would be effective and concluded the harm involved would outweigh the benefits.

The panel said it would lead to many mothers having antibiotics unnecessarily. That could cause dangerous allergic reactions and in some cases the drugs could also pose health risks to the babies.

It also says the risks of Strep B are relatively low given that there are 700,000 births every year. But the Department of Health says it is looking at other ways to tackle the infection and protect newborn babies.

Start Quote

Grahame Morris

I believe in early interventions in life, and this could prevent years of expense and agony with a simple, cheap measure”

End Quote Grahame Morris MP Labour, Easington

But some are not convinced that decision is right.

The Easington Labour MP Grahame Morris sits on the commons health select committee and has tabled a motion calling for a rethink.

He says the evidence for routine Strep B screening is compelling.

He said: "The evidence suggests it's on the increase and those countries like the USA, Canada, France, Germany and Spain that have introduced screening on a routine basis have seen a dramatic reduction in infections in the newborn.

"I believe in early interventions in life, and this could prevent years of expense and agony with a simple, cheap measure."

Commons motion

So far more than 35 other MPs have backed the commons motion. A petition has also been started by the Group B Strep Support group, which includes dozens of the families affected by the infection.

The Department of Health panel says it will look again at the case for screening in two or three years' time.

It doesn't believe the problem of Strep B is more serous in the UK than in countries that do screen.

But families living with the effects of the infection remain convinced that a simple blood test for pregnant women at around 35 weeks would save many more lives and prevent others enduring pain and loss.

Richard Moss Article written by Richard Moss Richard Moss Political editor, North East & Cumbria

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    my grandaughter lillia merrington was born 23/11/11 4 days after she was born she stopped breathing .she was critical with strep B meningitis we were told she probably wouldnt last the next 48hrs but she did shes our little fighter shes been left with cerabyl palsy, hydro cephalus, epilepsy, diabetes, hypa tonia and a low immune system all for the sake of antibiotics

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Our daughter, Hannah - twin to William, developed Group B Strep shortly after birth. She was born prematurely at 32 weeks and 5 days and there was no mention of testing me for Group B Strep when I went into premature labour. Hannah went through two lumbar punctures and the first 6 weeks of her life were very traumatic for my husband and I. Group B Strep Support has existed since 1996!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I was found to have strepB with my son & given antibiotics during the birth, he was ok. I then had twins & again given antibiotics during the birth. Everything was ok until they were 6 weeks old. They developed sepsis due to strepB infection. they're ok now. Ive been told when they start a family they'll have to be screened. Antibiotics are lifesaving for strepB and all mothers should be screened

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Giving antibiotics just because a bacterium is found in the blood doesn't just pose a health risk as mentioned in the article, it also increases the chances of (unrelated) bacteria becoming resistant to these antibiotics. The development of antibiotics is not advancing as quickly as bacteria are becoming resistant, so we are slowly running out of effective treatments to some bacteria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    My wife found out that she had Strp B with our 1st son & they both had anti-biotics. She is pregnant with our 2nd and been told that the NHS don't give antibiotics as Strep can disappear, but they wont test to confirm this.

    Our mw was so embarrased by this nonsence policy and has advised us that she will make up a reason to take a swab and get it tested, which will also be tested for strep

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    My wife is pregnant and she were screened for Strep B, we didn't ask for the test and to be honest until we got the results we were not really aware of the risks. She tested positive and needs an additional test to confirm but it seems to me that this is a fairly straight forward test and appears to be something that midwives in North Tyneside are doing as routine. Why isn't everyone else?



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