Background: Group B streptococcal infections are a leading cause of neonatal mortality, and they also affect pregnant women and the elderly. Many cases of the disease in newborns can be prevented by the administration of prophylactic intrapartum antibiotics. In the 1990s, prevention efforts increased. In 1996, consensus guidelines recommended use of either a risk-based or a screening-based approach to identify candidates for intrapartum antibiotics. To assess the effects of the preventive efforts, we analyzed trends in the incidence of group B streptococcal disease from 1993 to 1998.
Methods: Active, population-based surveillance was conducted in selected counties of eight states. A case was defined by the isolation of group B streptococci from a normally sterile site. Census and live-birth data were used to calculate the race-specific incidence of disease; national projections were adjusted for race.
Results: Disease in infants less than seven days old accounted for 20 percent of all 7867 group B streptococcal infections. The incidence of early-onset neonatal infections decreased by 65 percent, from 1.7 per 1000 live births in 1993 to 0.6 per 1000 in 1998. The excess incidence of early-onset disease in black infants, as compared with white infants, decreased by 75 percent. Projecting our findings to the entire United States, we estimate that 3900 early-onset infections and 200 neonatal deaths were prevented in 1998 by the use of intrapartum antibiotics. Among pregnant girls and women, the incidence of invasive group B streptococcal disease declined by 21 percent. The incidence among nonpregnant adults did not decline.
Conclusions: Over a six-year period, there has been a substantial decline in the incidence of group B streptococcal disease in newborns, including a major reduction in the excess incidence of these infections in black infants. These improvements coincide with the efforts to prevent perinatal disease by the wider use of prophylactic intrapartum antibiotics.