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Natural and Integrative Treatments for Group B Strep in Women

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A gastrointestinal and genital infection from Group B Strep bacteria (GBS) is common in men and women. Most of the time, Streptococcus agalactiae bacteria are commonly present in the gastrointestinal and genital tracts of healthy individuals, rarely causing any symptoms except for an occasional urinary tract infection (UTI). However, for pregnant women and their babies, GBS can be harmful and present serious health consequences.

 What is Group B Strep?

Group B Streptococcus (Group B Strep) is primarily transmitted from person to person through direct contact. Transmission of vaginal bacteria can occur during childbirth when a baby passes through the mother’s birth canal carrying Group B Strep. The GBS bacteria can also be transmitted through close contact with an infected individual, such as sharing utensils or personal items. It is important to note that GBS is not considered a sexually transmitted infection.

Two to four women in 10 may have GBS but not know it. However, GBS can cause serious infections in newborns, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immune systems, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:1Group B Strep, Fast Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed July 19, 2023

  • In the U.S., GBS is a leading cause of meningitis and bloodstream infections in a newborn’s first three months of life.
  • Newborns are at increased risk for GBS if their mother tested positive for the bacteria late in pregnancy.
  • 2 to 3 in every 50 babies (4–6%) who develop GBS disease die.
  • There are ways to prevent transmission from mother to baby with screening and treatment.

For those who present symptoms, GBS can cause various gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, including abdominal pain and discomfort, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Additionally, you may experience fever, chills, fatigue, rapid breathing, and severe bladder, throat, or blood infection. It is essential to seek medical attention if you are experiencing these symptoms, as prompt diagnosis and treatment are critical for managing a Group B Strep infection.

Group B Streptococcus Bacteria Screening

Estimates say 10-30% of pregnant women carry GBS in their rectum or vagina, which can be passed to the baby through the birth canal, leading to potential infections such as pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis.

If you are pregnant, report any sign of GBS to a doctor. Your doctor should screen you in the last trimester so appropriate measures can be taken to prevent transmission to the baby. Screening for GBS is routine for pregnant women in the United States. It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)2Group B Strep, Prevention Guidelines, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed July 19, 2022 and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)3Prevention of Group B Streptococcal Early-Onset Disease in Newborns: ACOG Committee Opinion, Number 797 [published correction appears in Obstet Gynecol. 2020 Apr;135(4):978-979]. Obstet Gynecol. 2020;135(2):e51-e72. https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0000000000003668

1. Screening for GBS involves a simple swab test of the vagina and rectum during the 35th to 37th week of pregnancy.

2. If you are testing positive for GBS, ask your physician to do susceptibility and allergy testing for specific oral antibiotics first, like penicillin, as IV antibiotics will likely be administered during labor to reduce the risk of transmission to the baby.

3. If you enter into early labor, ensure you are checked for GBS as soon as possible to prevent transmission if you have tested positive.

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 What If You Test Positive for GBS During Pregnancy?

Group B streptococcus is an essential cause of maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. Infections can progress rapidly, leading to a rapid deterioration in the health of both the mother and the baby if not promptly diagnosed and treated.

What if you test positive? Timely administration of IV antibiotics by an attending physician or healthcare provider can significantly reduce the risk of transmission of bacterial infection to the baby and prevent serious infections. Additionally, close monitoring of both the mother and the baby during and after delivery is crucial to promptly identify and treat any signs of GBS-positive infection. Implementing these preventive measures can prevent GBS and minimize the impact of GBS on maternal and neonatal morbidity.

Suppose you are GBS-positive and choose to forego treatment. In that case, it can cause severe complications for the mother, such as urinary tract infections, chorioamnionitis (infection of the placental membranes), postpartum endometritis (infection of the uterus after childbirth), and heavy bleeding after birth.

The increased morbidity associated with GBS infections is due to several factors:

1. First, GBS can quickly colonize the reproductive tract of pregnant women, leading to a higher likelihood of transmission of gram-negative bacteria to the newborn during delivery.

2. Second, GBS can cause a wide range of infections in both the mother and the baby, including bloodstream infections, respiratory infections, and central nervous system infections. These infections can result in severe illness and long-term complications.

3. Thirdly, the colonization of GBS infections may increase the risk for Cesarean section, preterm labor, and premature birth.4Bianchi-Jassir F., Seale A., Kohli-Lynch M., Lawn J., Baker C., Bartlett L., Cutland C., Gravett M.G., Heath P.T., Ip M., et al. Preterm Birth Associated With Group B Streptococcus Maternal Colonization Worldwide: Systematic Review and Meta-analyses. Clin. Infect. Dis. 2017;65:S133–S142. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix661.

Natural Support for Strep B Infections During Pregnancy

If a woman suspects they have a GBS infection, a naturopathic physician (ND) will use antibiotics and a combination of integrative treatments, depending on the situation. It is imperative to protect the health of the woman and fetus; therefore, home remedies alone are insufficient to address this condition’s complexity and severity.

Intravenous antibiotics are the first course of antibiotic treatment, though naturopathic doctors may offer other therapies to support the body. These natural remedies include probiotics, herbs and supplements, and dietary modifications. Natural treatments for GBS aim to support the immune system, maintain a healthy balance of the gut flora, and reduce inflammation, by:

1. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains supports immune function and fetal health.5Lowensohn RI, Stadler DD, Naze C. Current Concepts of Maternal Nutrition. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2016;71(7):413-426. doi:10.1097/OGX.0000000000000329

2. Regularly exercising, getting adequate sleep, and utilizing stress management techniques can help strengthen the immune system.6Mate A, Reyes-Goya C, Santana-Garrido Á, Vázquez CM. Lifestyle, Maternal Nutrition, and Healthy Pregnancy. Curr Vasc Pharmacol. 2021;19(2):132-140. doi:10.2174/1570161118666200401112955

3. Probiotics, including specialized Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains, can help restore the balance of gut bacteria and may allow the doctor to reduce the required dosage of antibiotics.7Menichini D, Chiossi G, Monari F, De Seta F, Facchinetti F. Supplementation of Probiotics in Pregnant Women Targeting Group B Streptococcus Colonization: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2022;14(21):4520. Published 2022 Oct 27. doi:10.3390/nu14214520

4. Compounds isolated from raw garlic may have antimicrobial properties for GBS (however, do not self-administer raw garlic or other forms of garlic as a treatment as further research needs to be done to determine the most appropriate method of administration to effectively prevent the transmission of GBS to a newborn).8Torres KAM, Lima SMRR, Torres LMB, Gamberini MT, Silva Junior PID. Garlic: An Alternative Treatment for Group B Streptococcus. Microbiol Spectr. 2021;9(3):e0017021. https://doi.org/10.1128/Spectrum.00170-21

5. Improving GI function by avoiding trigger foods and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods.

Is There a Natural Treatment to Prevent Group B Strep?

While no single natural treatment will prevent Group B Strep, education and awareness are crucial prevention strategies. It’s vital to stay informed about the risks and consequences of GBS infection before pregnancy. All women be aware of the importance of seeking timely prenatal care when pregnant and should follow all recommended guidelines9Group B Strep, Fast Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed July 19, 2023,10Group B Strep, Prevention Guidelines, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed July 19, 2022 for preventing GBS transmission: 

1. Regularly washing the genital area with mild soap and water can help reduce the risk of contracting GBS and avoid GBS colonization.

 2. Avoid douching and using scented products in the genital area to help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria and a healthy vaginal flora. Speak with your doctor before cleaning with apple cider vinegar rinse or other natural remedies to establish whether this is necessary and healthy for your vaginal microbiome.

3. Practice regular handwashing, especially before and after handling food, using the bathroom, or changing diapers.

4. Avoid close contact with individuals who have respiratory or gastrointestinal infections, as this can also help minimize the risk of GBS transmission.

5. Maintaining a healthy diet of fibrous fruits and vegetables and fermented foods can help support healthy gut flora.

6. Wearing breathable cotton or bamboo underwear can help maintain vaginal health and prevent vaginal infections.

7. Reducing sugary foods can help the body become inhospitable for bacteria colonization.

By implementing these preventive measures – screening, education, and hygiene practices – the incidence of illness and complications from a Group B Strep infection can be significantly reduced among women of childbearing age, ensuring the health and well-being of pregnant mothers and their babies.


Footnotes

This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform health care in the United States by increasing public awareness of natural medicine and access to naturopathic doctors. Naturopathic medicine, with its person-centered principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness overwhelming healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain optimal lifelong health. INM strives to fulfil this mission through the following initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research on this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

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