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Group B strep report highlights global impact

Wednesday November 3rd 2021

The world urgently needs a vaccine against group B streptococcus, according to the World Health Organization.

This bacterium is more common around the world than previously believed, say Dr Phillipp Lambach, from WHO, and colleagues. Their work found that it may be the cause of more than half a million preterm births per year.

The infection may also lead to almost 100,000 newborn deaths each year, as well as at least 46,000 stillbirths, and significant long-term disability including neurological impairments such as cerebral palsy, hearing and vision loss, they explain in a report published today.

Group B streptococcus can be transmitted to the foetus during pregnancy, birth, or shortly afterwards. Pregnant women are not currently routinely tested for this infection.

An effective vaccine could be cost-effective and bring significant health benefits globally, explain the authors. They point out that several possible vaccines are in development, but progress is slow.

“This new research shows that Group B strep is a major and underappreciated threat to newborn survival and wellbeing, bringing devastating impacts for so many families globally," said Dr Lambach.

"WHO joins partners in calling for urgent development of a maternal Group B strep vaccine, which would have profound benefits in countries worldwide.”

Co-author Professor Joy Lawn added: “Group B strep infection poses a serious challenge to every family affected, and in every country.

"Maternal vaccination could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of babies in the years to come, yet 30 years since this was first proposed, the world has not delivered a vaccine. Now is the time to act to protect the world’s most vulnerable citizens with a Group B strep vaccine.”

The report has been released at a global conference on Group B strep held by WHO and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Tags: Child Health | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Nursing & Midwifery | Pharmaceuticals | Women's Health & Gynaecology | World Health

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