Experts are calling for a group B Streptococcus (GBS) vaccine which could prevent 100,000 baby deaths worldwide.
More than 21 million pregnant women worldwide are carriers of the bacteria which used to be considered harmless, according to researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
Today, the bacteria is known to cause septicaemia and meningitis in babies, as well as being a major cause of stillbirths.
Eleven papers have been published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, revealing the extent of the damage that GBS can cause.
The papers suggest that there are 410,000 cases recorded worldwide every year and 147,000 stillbirths and infant deaths.
Co-lead author of the papers and professor of maternal, reproductive and child health at LSHTM, Joy Lawn said: “Vaccines are the way to go. They are on the way but it is going to be probably a five-year time horizon. The vaccine process needs to be accelerated. The World Health Organization is already moving to make sure that when we get a vaccine it will be available for countries where the need is highest.”
In wealthy countries, pregnant women who are carriers of the bacteria are given antibiotics in labour, lowering the risk of passing on the bacteria to their baby.
However, it does not prevent stillbirths and is not a sustainable solution for Africa and other developing countries where the infection rate is high.
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