Is prophylaxis of early-onset group B streptococcal disease appropriate for South Africa?

S Afr Med J. 2001 Oct;91(10):858-60.


Background: Early-onset group B streptococcal (GBS) disease in neonates can be prevented by the use of intrapartum chemoprophylaxis. There are two prevention strategies, one based on risk factors and the other on culture screening for GBS. This study sought to establish whether GBS chemoprophylaxis is appropriate in a developing country such as South Africa.

Methods: All neonates with early-onset GBS disease born at Johannesburg Hospital between 1 January 1995 and 21 December 1997 were reviewed. Data were collected prospectively between 1 January and 31 October 1998. Data included demographic information, obstetric information, disease characteristics, admission details and mortality. The approximate cost of implementing both strategies was determined.

Results: The overall incidence of early-onset GBS was 1.16 per 1,000 live births. The rate was significantly greater in 1998 compared with the previous years. Most of the babies were born preterm (70%), and 60% required admission to the neonatal intensive care unit (ICU) (a total of 81 ICU days). Twelve of the babies died. Assuming that chemoprophylaxis would reduce the number of ICU days by half, this would save an amount of R52,000. Culture-based chemoprophylaxis would cost R10 million, whereas an approach based on risk factors would cost R31,140.

Conclusion: In conclusion, we feel that early-onset GBS disease is sufficiently prevalent in our unit to justify the implementation of a chemoprophylaxis strategy based on risk factors. Whether other units should adopt a similar approach would depend on the local incidence of early-onset GBS.

MeSH terms

  • Developing Countries
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / epidemiology
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / prevention & control
  • Penicillins / administration & dosage
  • Prospective Studies
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Streptococcal Infections / epidemiology
  • Streptococcal Infections / prevention & control*
  • Streptococcus agalactiae*


  • Penicillins