Neonatal sepsis

Sepsis in newborn babies can develop extremely quickly with potentially devastating consequences. It is therefore important to detect and treat these babies early. Group B Streptococcal infection is an important cause of early neonatal mortality and morbidity. Affected infants present with septicaemia or respiratory distress, usually within the first 12 hours of life.

The following are estimates of the chances a baby in Britain will become infected with Group B Streptococcus (GBS) if no preventative measures are taken and no other risk factors are present:2

  • 1 in 1,000 where the woman is not known to be a carrier of GBS
  • 1 in 400 where the woman is carrying GBS during the pregnancy
  • 1 in 300 where the woman is carrying GBS at delivery
  • 1 in 100 where the woman has had a previous baby infected with GBS.

If a woman who carries GBS is given antibiotics as described in this guideline, the baby’s risk is reduced significantly:

  • 1 in 8,000 where the mother carries GBS during pregnancy
  • 1 in 6,000 where the mother carries GBS at delivery and
  • 1 in 2,000 where the mother has previously had a baby infected with GBS.

Preterm babies are between 3 and 15 times more likely to develop GBS infection and to die as a result than full term babies.

The vast majority of pregnancies can be managed so that babies are protected and born free of GBS infection

Sepsis guideline for informational use only - compiled from a review of secondary/tertiary London NICU guidelines in 2012. Hospitals included: University College London, Whittington, St Thomas’, St George’s, King’s College, Queen Charlotte’s and provisional NICE guidance from Dec 2011.
See full algorithm as PDF.


  1. NICE “Antibiotics for early-onset neonatal infection: antibiotics for the prevention and treatment of early-onset neonatal infection”, Draft for Consultation - [Link to PDF]
  2. Group B Streptococcus for Health Professionals, Group B Strep Support Charity - [Link to PDF]