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N Engl J Med. 2002 Jul 25;347(4):233-9.

A population-based comparison of strategies to prevent early-onset group B streptococcal disease in neonates.

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Respiratory Diseases Branch, MS-C23, Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Disease, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA.



Guidelines issued in 1996 in the United States recommend either screening of pregnant women for group B streptococcal colonization by means of cultures (screening approach) or assessing clinical risk factors (risk-based approach) to identify candidates for intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis.


In a multistate retrospective cohort study, we compared the effectiveness of the screening and risk-based approaches in preventing early-onset group B streptococcal disease (in infants less than seven days old). We studied a stratified random sample of the 629,912 live births in 1998 and 1999 in eight geographical areas where there was active surveillance for group B streptococcal infection, including all births in which the neonate had early-onset disease. Women with no documented culture for group B streptococcus were considered to have been cared for according to the risk-based approach.


We studied 5144 births, including 312 in which the newborn had early-onset group B streptococcal disease. Antenatal screening was documented for 52 percent of the mothers. The risk of early-onset disease was significantly lower among the infants of screened women than among those in the risk-based group (adjusted relative risk, 0.46; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.36 to 0.60). Because women whose providers had no strategy for prophylaxis may have been misclassified in the risk-based group, we excluded all women with risk factors and adequate time for prophylaxis who did not receive antibiotics. The adjusted relative risk of early-onset disease associated with the screening approach in this secondary analysis was similar--0.48 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.37 to 0.63).


Routine screening for group B streptococcus during pregnancy prevents more cases of early-onset disease than the risk-based approach. Recommendations that endorse both strategies as equivalent warrant reconsideration.

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