Passed from mother to child during birth, group B streptococcus can cause sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, neurological damage and, in a small percentage of newborns, even death.

Although all women are tested for group B streptococcus during pregnancy, current screening methods can leave some babies at risk for contracting an infection from the bacterium. But the new test, which University of Florida (UF) researchers studied for several months as part of a clinical trial, allows health-care workers to quickly screen mothers during labour, improving the odds that babies will receive preventive care so they will not be infected during delivery.

"Without any intervention, (group B strep) is the most common cause of early-onset infection in newborns," said Rodney Edwards, M.D., a UF assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology in the College of Medicine who led the clinical trial at UF, one of six sites to study the test. "It can cause sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia. The likelihood of dying if you are a newborn is five percent. (With meningitis) even if the baby makes it through the infection there is a chance of cerebral palsy and cognitive delay."

The test uses technology known as a polymerase chain reaction, meaning it can amplify a small sample of DNA from a vaginal swab to detect the virus. Unlike other tests using this technology, Cepheid's test does not require the sample to be separately prepared prior to running the test. A nurse can insert the patient's sample directly into the self-contained test. This is what makes it so easy, Edwards said.

UF nurses performed the test on women in labour during the clinical trial. Lab technicians also tried out the test to screen pregnant women prior to labour. At UF, about 240 women were screened with the test, Edwards said. "The test seems to perform quite well," Edwards said.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Florida