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Saturday 15 July 2017

Testing for Group B strep in Pregnancy with Strepelle

It's July, which means not only is this Group B Strep awareness month, I am also over 35 weeks pregnant - the perfect time to test for GBS (Group B Streptococcus). Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infections in newborn babies, causing meningitis, sepsis and pneumonia. Most of these infections could be prevented, but the U.K. Is one of the only developed countries in the world which does not routinely test for Group B Strep and many pregnant women haven't even heard of it! Have you?

Group B Strep test in pregnancy with Strepelle

One in four women carry it and one baby a week dies of the infection. Being a carrier doesn't automatically mean that your baby will be poorly - however, there is a risk that GBS can pass to your baby during childbirth, which can create serious and life threatening complications. Knowing your level of risk means that you can be prescribed medication in time for labour in order to keep your baby safe.

The only way of knowing if you are carrying the Group B Streptococcus bacterium is by having a laboratory test. As this is not offered routinely on the NHS - or indeed even mentioned in many cases (I had never even heard of it until recently and I already have a child), the Strepelle home-to-laboratory test allows pregnant women the opportunity to test at home with the highest accuracy ECM testing. You can buy the test online at Strepelle or independent pharmacies for £39.99*

So how does it work?

The home testing kit comes in a box and includes:
  • 2 testing swabs - one vaginal and one rectal
  • an order form with unique reference number labels for your sample bottles
  • an instruction booklet
  • a self sealing, freepost return envelope
I was quite surprised to find out that one of the samples would be a rectal swab - but don't let this put you off. The swab only needs to be inserted by a maximum of 1-2cm for a rectal sample and max 5cm for a vaginal sample. The instruction booklet alsocontains an actual size diagram to show you the measurement so that you can check rather than guess.

 I'm not going to lie though, when you are as big as I am during pregnancy, maneuvering into a position where your arms will be long enough to either reach forward over and under your (massive) bump, or behind you when your bump prevents you from really leaning forward is not easy at all! (Having spoken to a friend who also took the test at a similar gestation, it's definitely not just me! Ask someone for help if you so wish...I didn't so wish..)

Once you have taken the sample you need to put the swab into the tube of gel. It wasn't obvious from the instruction booklet that there is actually a cap on the end of this tube that you need to remove first - in fact it isn't even mentioned. Hopefully you can see in the image below where the cap is. It is about a cm long and just pulls straight off. You then discard the cap and put your swab sample inside and press the blue lid down to make sure it is sealed...

Strepelle Group B strep test remove cap instructions

Once the lids are in place and your samples are sealed, stick your unique reference number labels onto each sample bottle, fill in your details on the order form and you preference for results contact (phone, email, text) and pop them into the bag...

Strepelle Group B Streptococcus test instructions and review

It is really important to make sure you post the samples on a weekday so that they aren't just sat in a post box over the weekend. 

I posted them first thing on a Monday morning in time for the 9am post collection.

The results:

The results should usually be back within 5-7 days. As I posted my results on Monday 3rd July I expected I would hear by Monday 10th July so I emailed the customer service email to check. They said I can expect my results by Wednesday 12th July, and so the 7 days presumably don't include the weekend. In fact, I received my results on Friday 14th July - slightly later than expected, but I trust that a thorough level of testing took place, which can account for the time difference. Thankfully, my results were negative and no further action is needed.

A friend of mine also bought the test from Strepelle, posted it the day after me and had her results within a couple of days - which came back as positive for Group B Strep. She tested at 37+ weeks so was further ahead in her gestation than me. 

A positive result for GBS:

The treatment for Group B Strep, if the results come back as positive is usually a course of intraveneous antibiotics to  minimise risks of infection to the baby. My friend who tested positive for GBS now has a  treatment plan in place which will involve her having an IV of antibiotics administered as soon as her labour starts and at regular intervals afterwards. She was initially worried that this would mean she wouldn't be able to have a water-birth as planned, but in fact this isn't an issue at all and her birth plan can carry on as normal. It is scary to think that if she hadn't seen my Facebook post about the home testing kit and where to buy one, she may not have been tested and come to find out about the fact she was carrying this infection. 

It is worth mentioning however, that a positive result does not automatically mean that your baby will definitely become infected. There are other risk factors - although 40% of babies with GBS displayed no other risk factors... you can find out more information on the Group B Strep Support website here.

A negative result for GBS:

If your results come back as a negative, then you do not need to worry. Usually, the results are good for about 5 weeks - which is why 35 weeks is the perfect time to test as this should take you up to your due date, if you give birth on time. Of course, you could show signs of the infection later on, even after a negative result - there is no absolute guarantee that you wont have GBS later - but it is unlikely.

Here is the letter you can expect to receive if your results are negative. I chose to have mine emailed to me as I felt this would be quicker than having them posted:

Now that I am aware of Group B Strep and I know my results are negative, I feel I have some assurance that this is one less thing I have to worry about during labour and birth. I wouldn't hesitate to use this testing service again in any future pregnancies and I will certainly be recommending this to any pregnant friends or relatives moving forward. It really is a small price to pay for a piece of knowledge which could potentially save the life of your baby.

Sarah x 

PS: Once your baby is here, why not read Jennifer's Tips for surviving the first few weeks with a newborn here.

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Disclosure - I received this testing kit in return for an honest review and feedback of the product and process. All views and opinions are my own.

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