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New Group B Streptococcus findings

Latest findings about Group B Streptococcus may lead to new drugs being developed for infectious diseases affecting newborns

Latest findings about Group B Streptococcus (GBS) may lead to new drugs being developed for infectious diseases affecting newborns. A new study shows that a bacterial pathogen that causes sepsis and meningitis in newborns shuts down immune cell function to ensure its survival.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, have found that GBS dupes the immune system into reducing production of antibiotic molecules.

Dr Victor Nizet, professor of paediatrics and pharmacy at UC San Diego said: "We have discovered that the bacteria have evolved to use a trick we call 'molecular mimicry'. Like a wolf in sheep's clothing, GBS can enter our body without activating the immune cells that are normally programmed to kill foreign invaders."

About a quarter of pregnant women in the UK are estimated to carry GBS in their vagina and rectum. As a result, many babies come into contact, and are colonised with, GBS around the time of labour and birth. The vast majority of babies are unaffected, but a small number become seriously ill with GBS infection.

It is estimated that approximately one out of every 1,600 babies born in the UK and Ireland develops early-onset GBS infection. This means that every year in the UK (with 700,000 births per year) around 440 babies will develop early-onset GBS infection.

GBS infections can cause blood poisoning (septicaemia), infection of the lung (pneumonia) or infection of the lining of the brain (meningitis), and each of these can be life threatening. One out of every 10 babies diagnosed with early-onset GBS infection will die (approximately 44 babies a year).

In addition to causing infections in newborns, pregnant women, adult diabetics and the elderly are vulnerable to GBS.

The study has appeared online in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

13th July 2009

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