Leicester mum's 'heartache' as newborn almost dies at birth despite test that could have saved them

ITV Health Correspondent Nancy Cole reports on the devastating impacts Group B Strep has had on a mother and her family.

A mother from Leicester says a £15 test could have saved her family serious physical and mental trauma after her newborn baby was left fighting for her life.

Preya Vaja's baby Uma nearly died in childbirth due to sepsis caused by Group B Strep (GBS) - a bacterial infection that can be easily identified by a swab test.

The infection kills one newborn every week in the UK and yet many pregnant women have never heard of it.

Mrs Vaja said she is angry that the routine £15 swab test that could identify Group Strep B is not available on the NHS, despite the number of babies that die or are left with serious disabilities because of it.

"I think we need raise awareness about Group B Strep and the devastation it can lead to," Preya tells ITV News Central

Since her daughter's traumatic birth, the mother and her husband Birju are campaigning for better awareness.

Speaking to ITV Central, Mrs Vaja said: "I think we need to raise awareness of Group B Strep and the infections it can lead to, the devastation it can lead to.

"Yes, it only happens to a minority, but that minority leave with stories that haunt them for the rest of their life".

She added: "In my community, we know Asian and black women are at higher risk, so I feel it's my duty to let other Asian women within my family and social networks know about it, because unfortunately you don't get this information in your antenatal care."

According to a study from the UK Health Security Agency, rates of the disease are significantly higher in infants of Black or Asian ethnicity (51% and 28% higher respectively), compared to infants of white ethnicity.

Mrs Vaja's husband, Birju, said: "I couldn't believe that it wasn't mandatory at least, for every woman to be screened because it's something that can save so much heartache and trauma for any family.

"I consider ourselves quite fortunate with what happened, but to just have that knowledge, we would have taken that test five weeks before - no question about that".

Mrs Vaja was taken into hospital after her water broke at 34 weeks and was told she would be induced if she didn't start her labour naturally within 24 hours.

The next day she started having contractions but knew this was not like her first labour.

She said: "I didn't feel right. I was deteriorating quite quickly, I had a fever, I was feeling quite delirious.

"I had an abnormally high heart-rate."

Mrs Vaja continued: "The midwife that was looking after me was brilliant, she could see that something wasn't right and I was taken directly to the delivery suite.

"By this time, I was in and out of consciousness, being sick. I just felt like I was dying."

Mrs Vaja had sepsis caused by Group B Strep and the doctors knew her baby was in trouble too.

Mother of two, Preya, and her husband are now campaigning for better awareness of the potentially deadly disease

She was rushed into theatre for an emergency C-section under general anaesthetic so she was unconscious when her daughter arrived.

Little Uma needed resuscitating numerous times in the minutes after she was born and was taken to the neo-natal intensive care unit.

Now seeking to raise awareness of the condition, the mother-of-two said: "If I had known about Group B Strep, I would have taken it upon myself to have the test".

Uma needed resuscitating numerous times in the minutes after she was born after contracting sepsis

She added: "If I had been given a leaflet on the group B Strep by my midwife, or through the antenatal clinics, or even if it were just picking up a leaflet whilst in a waiting room, that would have been enough for me and I could have made that decision to go and get tested in the final weeks of my pregnancy.

"More women need to be informed about the dangers of group B Strep that can lead to meningitis, sepsis and - in worse case scenario's - death for some families."

Why aren't all women offered a Group B Strep (GBS) test during pregnancy?

The NHS does not currently offer routine testing, but you can pay for one privately.

According to the NHS website, Group B Strep is very common in both men and women and usually lives in the bottom (rectum) or vagina. It affects two to four women out of 10.

Group B Strep is normally harmless and most people will not realise they have it.

However, it can be a problem if it affects pregnant women - as it could spread to the baby, making them very ill.

Why should I get tested?

Group B Strep Support is a charity working to stop the infection in babies, which was founded by chief executive Jane Plumb and her husband Robert in 1996 after their middle child died from group B Strep infection.

They are petitioning for tests to be provided to all pregnant women in the last five weeks of pregnancy.

According to their website, group B Strep is the most common cause of infection in newborn babies causing meningitis, sepsis and pneumonia.

Carrying Group B Strep has no symptoms, so testing is the only way to find out if you are carrying the bacteria.

How does it work?

If you would like to be tested for GBS, you should talk to your midwife so you can discuss the options available on the NHS first.

It is recommended to get tested within the last five weeks of your pregnancy (between 35 weeks onwards).

You can test earlier, but the test is not as reliable in predicting whether or not you are a carrier when you give birth.

If a women is known to carry Group B Strep in her current pregnancy then she will be offered antibiotics from onset of labour which will minimise the risk of her newborn baby developing a Group B Strep infection.

Help and support available:

NHS Choices – Group Strep B - Overview and information on Group Strep B infection.

The National Childbirth Trust - Helpline: 0300 330 0700 Help for people becoming parents, offering relevant information, reassurance and mutual support.

Group Strep B Support (GBSS)- Helpline: 0330 120 0796 Charity offering information and support to families affected by group B Streptococcus. It also informs about preventing group B Strep in newborns and supports research into the infections.

Tommy’s -To talk to a midwife, call: 0800 0147 800Comprehensive website with details of all aspects of pregnancy and giving birth to a healthy baby, as well as a Midwife Helpline.

Netmums - Netmums is a local network for Mums (or Dads), offering a wealth of information on both a national and local level.

BabyCentre - Comprehensive online resource for new and expectant parents