To screen or not to screen women for Group B Streptococcus ( Streptococcus agalactiae) to prevent early onset sepsis in newborns: recent advances in the unresolved debate

Ther Adv Infect Dis. 2020 Jul 13;7:2049936120942424. doi: 10.1177/2049936120942424. eCollection Jan-Dec 2020.


Streptococcus agalactiae, also known as Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the commonest cause of early onset sepsis in newborns in developed high-income countries. Intrapartum antimicrobial (antibiotic) prophylaxis (IAP) is recognized to be highly effective in preventing early onset Group B sepsis (EOGBS) in newborns. The key controversy is about the strategy that should be used to identify mothers who should receive IAP. There are two strategies that are followed in developed countries: screening-based or risk-factor-based identification of women requiring IAP. The debate regarding which of the two approaches is better has intensified in the recent years with concerns about antimicrobial resistance, effect on newborn's microbiome and other adverse effects. In this review, we have discussed some of the key research papers published in the period 2015-2019 that have addressed the relative merits and disadvantages of screening versus risk-factor-based identification of women requiring IAP. Although screening-based IAP appears to be more efficacious than risk-based IAP, IAP-based prevention has several limitations including ineffectiveness in prevention of late-onset GBS infection in babies, premature and still births, impact of IAP on neonatal microbiota, emergence of antimicrobial resistance and difficulties in implementing IAP-based strategies in middle and low income countries. Alternative strategies, principally maternal immunization against GBS would circumvent use of IAP. However, no licensed vaccines are currently available for use.

Keywords: Group B Streptococcus; intrapartum antimicrobial prophylaxis; risk factor; screening.

Publication types

  • Review