A mother who nearly lost her son to one of the biggest killers of newborns in Britain is campaigning for better testing of pregnant women to help stop more babies dying.
Britain is one of only a handful of developed countries that does not routinely test to see if pregnant women are carrying the Group B Strep – a form of meningitis that is a harmless bacteria carried around by lots of adults, but it can be fatal if it’s passed on to a baby during labour.
Justine Baker, from Taunton, Somerset, is one of thousands of people lobbying the Government to offer the test to pregnant women.
If they are a carrier of Group B Strep – or GBS – antibiotics can be given to them during labour which stops the infection being passed on to their soon-to-be-born child.
That is exactly what happened to Justine’s second child, Harrison, four years ago. He became extremely ill within hours of being born, but was saved by a quick-thinking doctor.
“GBS is one of the biggest killers of newborn babies in the UK, but sadly many people have never heard of it or the heartache it can cause for families,” she said. “Within eight hours of Harrison’s birth, he was fighting for his life in neonatal at Musgrove Park Hospital.
“He was my second child and so you would have thought we had heard about GBS before, but neither me nor my husband had ever heard of it and I never knew that I was a carrier.
“If it wasn’t for the quick thinking of a neonatal doctor at the hospital who decided to give him antibiotics as a precaution, he would not be alive today,” she said.
“Harrison spent the first few weeks of his life fighting for his life and us as parents could do nothing other than watch in utter despair. However, we were one of the lucky ones as he survived and without any long-term problems. Sadly, this is often not the case for babies who get the infection.
“GBS is a form of meningitis and we all know how dangerous that is. After the support we received as a family from the charity, Group B Strep Support (GBSS) we wanted to help raise awareness of this infection and campaign for the test to be offered routinely for women.
“During pregnancy, women are offered tests for a number of diseases and infections so why not GBS? Finally after years of campaigning by GBSS there is a public consultation being done by the National UK Screening Committee, so finally parents’ voices will be listened to.
“I would urge all parents and anyone who would like to have a family to take the time to tell the NCS to offer the test routinely to women.
“When we found out that a simple test and antibiotics could have stopped Harrison being so gravely ill and save us as a family the distress and upset of watching him helplessly fight for his life, we were astounded and angry.”
Justine said people should find out more by visiting www.gbss.org.uk and respond to the consultation.
“I would not want any other family to go through what we went through,” she said.
“It really will help save babies lives.”