Whether and how to treat Group B Strep: the continuing gulf between evidence and practice…

small__5987537049Some readers may be aware that I have written book about group B strep (GBS), so the timing of the updated Cochrane review on Intrapartum antibiotics for known maternal Group B streptococcal colonization couldn’t have been better for me. But even though the conclusions of this review remain unchanged (principally because of the lack of good evidence in this area), or perhaps because the conclusions of this review remain unchanged, I wanted to write a quick post on this as a reminder of the state of play.

As I discussed in an article that I wrote when the last update of the Cochrane review on GBS was published,

“This area of practice is a controversial one. As the reviewers note, the pressure to implement some kind of prophylaxis came from parents and the media, and it is easy to understand how the experience of losing a baby could lead to a desire to do something in order to prevent others from having the same experience. Unfortunately, there is no way of preventing all cases of GBS disease, there is a lack of evidence of effectiveness of intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis and there are significant ramifications of continuing to recommend this to large numbers of women. While there exist a number of examples of maternity care in which practice does not correlate with the evidence, the fact that the reviewers see further research as being limited because of the current guidelines in place in many areas makes this situation particularly extreme. The combination of the pressure to ‘do’ something in an attempt to prevent tragedy and the perceived difficulty of going against entrenched guidelines – whether or not they are evidence-based – would appear to have led to a situation where we may be doing more harm than good, without any means of working out if and how we could do better.” (Wickham 2010: 30)

My book – which has since been updated with even more recent evidence – explains the issues, offers clear explanations of the different perspectives and approaches, looks at what we do and do not know and provides a foundation which will help parents make the decision that is right for them.

As I waded through the several hundred papers that have been published in this area in recent years, though, one thing really struck me. The vast majority of the new papers are not robust research which would help move our knowledge forward. Instead, they are reiterations of current policy and practice. I find it even more striking that our ability to undertake the trials that would enable us to gain a better understanding of this area is limited by the entrenched nature of that practice…


Find out more about the book here. Or, if you’re a midwife or birth worker and would like more depth of conversation on this and related issues, I often chat about topics such as Group B Strep in our online courses.


Wickham S (2010). Antibiotics for Group B Strep: are they effective? EM 1(1): 27-30.

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

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