A heartbroken mother has been speaking of her determination to increase awareness and testing of Group B Streptococcus after losing her baby boy to the preventable infection.
Shaheen McQuade from Bellshill is taking her campaign to the Scottish Parliament next week in the hope MSPs will back her call for routine screening of pregnant women. The current guidelines are due to be reviewed later this year.
Ms McQuade and father Craig Blackie had just 12 days with their son Zach after he was born last year.
“To have your baby healthy for 12 days and to think ‘that’s it’, you’re settled, that’s your life from now on, that they’re always going to be there, to waking up every morning without them, it’s unbearable,” she said.
“But to know that it could have been prevented is a million times worse.”
Zach died in hospital in August 2015 from bacterial meningitis triggered by group B strep, an infection that Ms McQuade later learned could have been identified by a simple swab test and treated with antibiotics.
She said: “A couple of weeks later, we went back to the hospital to speak to Zach’s consultant and he told us that it was group B strep that was passed on during labour. I’d never heard of group b strep, didn’t know what it was. “
Unlike many other developed countries, pregnant women in the UK are not routinely offered tests to detect group B strep unless they are thought be at risk.
It is a common bacterium in around a quarter of pregnant women and in most cases their newborns will suffer no ill effects, but around one in every 2000 babies develop an infection. With prompt treatment, seven out of ten recover fully but for one in ten infected babies it can be fatal.
Ms McQuade added: “Their argument is that they can test you at the beginning of your pregnancy and you can have it, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have it at the end of your pregnancy or vice versa so my question is, why not swab women from 36 weeks or when you go into labour?
“Another reason I’m fighting is that they say that the tests aren’t that reliable, so my argument is so why are they not setting aside more funding for more reliable tests?”
The current guidelines are to be reviewed this year by the UK National Screening Committee. The Scottish Government says they will carefully consider change if this independent panel of experts makes any new recommendations.
Ms McQuade has collected more than 12,000 signatures in support of her campaign and will present her petition to the Scottish Parliament next week.
She said: “I just want to prevent other people from going through the grief that we have to because it’s the hardest thing, you’ll ever go through in your life.”
“I just look at his pictures and that gives me the strength. He’s the reason that I’m fighting.”
For information on strep B visit the group B strep support website at gbss.org.uk