A Mother’s Crusade to Prevent Brain Damage through Group B Strep Testing

A mother in the United Kingdom (UK), is warning moms all over the world about the dangers of Group B strep and its potential to cause brain damage in newborn babies.  In what some may call a crusade, the parents of 3-year-old Grayson Harris continue to fight for testing that could prevent brain injuries like the one Grayson suffered during birth.

Little Grayson was diagnosed with meningitis just after birth as a result of Group B strep infection.  As a toddler, he continues to battle the effects of the brain damage caused by his newborn illness.  His mother has made it her mission to get the word out about the importance of testing and treating maternal infections.

A Healthy Pregnancy has an Unexpected Ending

Bethany Ford had experienced an uneventful and healthy pregnancy when she went into labor on December 16, 2015.  The admitting nurse at the hospital took a swab sample, which Ford later learned was for her first Group B strep test.  She had not been tested at any point during her pregnancy.

In accordance with National Health Service (NHS) procedures in the United Kingdom, medical providers tested Ford’s unborn son for Group B strep as she was admitted to the hospital.  She was already in active labor.  The results came back positive too late to administer effective treatment.  The baby was already born by the time the results were in.

Doctors admitted newborn Grayson to the special baby care unit, which is the equivalent of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) here in the United States.  Ford’s doctors discovered the baby was exposed to Group B Strep and had suffered subsequent meningitis sometime after admission.  During his two-week stay in the special baby care unit, doctors determined that Grayson had suffered brain damage.

The baby was in and out of the hospital several times in the first few months of his life, and now has a global developmental delay.  As a result of the brain damage, Grayson is impulsive and emotionally volatile.  He struggles with unsettled sleep and communication, and his frustrations with his limitations have led him to some disturbing self-harming behavior.

About her son’s brush with Group B strep, Ford said,

“The first few weeks of Grayson’s life were incredibly traumatic and no parent should have to see their child suffer and struggle in the way he did.  It is also difficult to take that following his birth it seemed like the doctors did not initially think there was any cause for concern.”

Taking Action Against Preventable Brain Damage

Ford and the baby’s father have retained the services of a medical negligence lawyer.  Together, they continue to investigate Grayson’s care at Epsom and St. Helier University Hospitals, where he was born.  While their attorneys pursue the case, the couple is busy making their voices heard. Their efforts rose during July, which is International Group B Strep Awareness Month.

The couple is calling for all pregnant women in the UK to be tested for Group B strep between weeks 35-37 of pregnancy.  Testing during this time gives medical providers the chance to administer timely preventative treatment.  Grayson’s special needs are a daily reminder of the importance of timely preventative treatment for Group B strep.

Testing for Group B strep is a very simple and inexpensive procedure that indicates whether a pregnant woman is a carrier of the pathogen.  Around one in four pregnant women are carriers who exhibit no symptoms.  The danger is the chance of passing on the illness to a newborn baby who has a fragile immune system.  Transmission of Group B strep often results in brain damage for the infant.

Ford and her attorney agree, “Everything possible must be done to prevent this infection in babies.”

American Prenatal Testing Standards

Many American mothers may find Ford’s story confusing and particularly heartbreaking. That is because the medical standards in the U.S. already recommend that pregnant women take the simple test for Group B Strep around their 36 week prenatal appointment.

The reason American doctors do it this way is precisely the reason that Ford is attempting to raise awareness of. Prenatal testing for Group B strep prevents related brain damage in newborns.

Assuming a mother has access to adequate prenatal care, most American women will receive the Group B strep swab test before they enter the final month of pregnancy.  If the results are positive, the mother will receive IV antibiotics while she is in labor to protect the baby from contracting the illness.

Antibiotic treatment is only effective during labor because the strep bacteria grow back quickly.  Too quickly, in fact, to allow for preventative treatment to start prior to the commencement of labor.  These antibiotic treatments are extremely effective in preventing brain damage in newborns due to Group B strep.

Facts about Group B Strep

Some interesting facts about Group B strep and why testing and treatment are so important:

  • Only about one in 4,000 moms who carry Group B strep will pass it on to their babies when they receive antibiotics during labor.
  • Mothers who do not receive antibiotics have about a one in 200 chance of passing it on.

For babies, there are two types of Group B strep illness:

  • Early-onset, which occurs during the first week of life.
  • Late-onset, which occurs from after the first week through the first three months of life.

The majority of young infants who have meningitis or a bloodstream infection develop the illness due to Group B strep.  Meningitis can cause permanent brain damage or sepsis, and can be fatal.  An estimated 4-6 percent of infants who develop Group B strep will die from the illness or complications.

Preventing Group B Strep and Brain Damage

One of the best ways to make sure that you get the medical care you deserve is to be proactive. Be informed about potential risks, when to get help, and what to expect.  For mothers all over the world, Group B strep is a very real concern.

Early-onset was formerly the more common of the two Group B strep illnesses.  The American model of early testing and antibiotics has reduced the number of babies who develop Group B strep.  Newborns whose mothers test positive for Group B strep are at the highest risk of contracting the illness. However, there are other means of exposure.

For parents in the UK and elsewhere, we can only hope that voices will be heard and more will be done to prevent Group B strep.  No child should have to suffer brain damage due to a lack of proper and effective testing and prevention methods.

Have Questions about Birth Injuries?

If you have questions about birth injuries or infections like Group B strep, Birth Injury Guide is here to help.  We offer a wealth of information on our website and blog, and offer free legal consultations.  If your child is battling an injury or illness and you have concerns about your legal rights, contact Birth Injury Guide.

Call 1-877-415-6603 to schedule your free case review, or send us an email via our online form.


Meagan Cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to the team at Birth Injury Guide to provide up-to-date and relevant content that clients can count on.