PUBLISHED: 00:00, Thu, Apr 20, 2017 | UPDATED: 12:44, Thu, Apr 20, 2017
GETTYStrep screening for pregnant women can dramatically cut the risk to newborns
A study from London North West Healthcare NHS Trust found an 83 per cent drop in the number of babies developing the bacterial infection Group B Strep (GBS), which is the most common cause of severe infection in newborn babies.
The NHS does not currently recommend screening for GBS. Women living in other countries - including the US, Canada, France, Germany and Slovenia - are routinely offered a test.
London North West Healthcare NHS Trust said it carried out the pilot study because too many babies at the trust were developing GBS, despite it following NHS recommendations on managing risk.
We are delighted with our findings
GBS caused the death of one-day-old Pippa Griffiths last year while under the care of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.
A coroner ruled her death could have been prevented if GBS had been spotted earlier.
Health Secretary Mr Hunt has ordered an investigation into at least seven avoidable baby deaths that occurred within two years at the trust.
A post-mortem showed that GBS was also a factor in the death Jack Burn, who died at the trust in 2015.
GBS is the most common cause of meningitis in babies under three months and can also cause septicaemia and pneumonia.
Around one in five pregnant women in the UK carries GBS in their digestive system or their vagina and some babies become infected during birth.
Symptoms of GBS in babies include being floppy and unresponsive, not feeding well, grunting, having a high or low temperature, and fast or slow breathing or heart rate.
GETTYHealth Secretary Mr Hunt ordered an investigation into at seven avoidable baby deaths
In the new study, published in the journal BMJ Open, more than 6,000 pregnant women received a screening test for GBS in the form of vaginal swabs.
Women who tested positive for GBS were offered antibiotics in labour to reduce the chance of passing on the infection to their baby.
Over the 22-month study, three babies developed GBS, with one baby born to a woman who was screened.
GETTYThe NHS does not currently recommend screening for GBS
Analysis suggested a drop in the rate of GBS infections of 83 per cent in babies born to screened mothers.
Dr Gopal Rao, consultant microbiologist at Northwick Park Hospital, who led the study, said: "Our hospital's rate of Group B Strep infection was much higher than the national average, despite carefully following national guidelines.Thu, April 20, 2017
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"I looked at international evidence showing how well screening worked overseas, and wondered if it could work as well in the UK.
"Our pilot study has demonstrated that not only is screening doable in a UK setting, it had an even greater effect than we had expected.
"We are delighted with our findings, and hope comparable results can be seen across the UK."