There are billions of bacteria in the world. Some are known to most people in the world while most are not. Some have cures and even vaccines while a majority do not. A good example of a bacteria that is known to most of us, if not all of us, and even has a vaccine is Mycobacteria tuberculosis. A bacterium is a tiny living organism that consist of a single cell and is able to survive on its own. This is in contrast to viruses which cannot survive on their own but require host organisms.


In the human body their are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria. Good bacteria are called commensals or normal flora and we are in a symbiotic relationship with them- meaning we both benefit. An example is the Group B streptococcus bacteria which is found in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy adults and the vagina of women. At these areas and within certain limits the bacteria is harmless. However, if moved to other parts of the body the bacteria cease to be beneficial and causes invasive infections. This is why it is referred to as a pathobiont. So how does it cause disease?


The most common means by which the bacteria is spread is by a mother to her child during pregnancy, labour or breast-feeding. For adults, those who are immunocompromised by having other diseases are the most likely to be affected. These include those with heart disease, cancer, diabetes or obesity and the risk of infection increases with age. Once infected, some of the signs and symptoms include fever, general body malaise and difficulty in feeding for babies. Infected adults may present with urinary tract infection or pneumonia. Women may also experience purulent vaginal discharge. If severe, infected babies may develop sepsis [generalized blood infection] or meningitis [infection of the covering surrounding the brain].


Notably, antibiotics such as penicillin are able to treat Group B streptococcus infections.  For prevention, it is advisable to test pregnant women for excessive amounts of Group B streptococcus bacteria so as to prevent mother to child transmission.  For those found to be positive or are deemed to be at a higher risk of severe infection, prophylactic treatment using antibiotics are given during labour which cure the woman and prevent transmission to the baby.


July is the designated month of international Group B streptococcus awareness. Being a preventable and curable disease, it is imperative that everyone is equipped with the necessary know how to combat the disease.  This will ensure more families are able to prevent child transmission and therefore significantly reduce child morbidity and mortality rates. Happy International Group B streptococcus awareness month.

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