GBS bacterial infection 'unusual' for healthy adults, doctors say

A bacteria called Group B streptococcus (GBS) is infecting healthy adults who are usually not known to be vulnerable to it, doctors say.
A bacteria called Group B streptococcus (GBS) is infecting healthy adults who are usually not known to be vulnerable to it, doctors say. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE- A bacteria called Group B streptococcus (GBS) is infecting healthy adults who are usually not known to be vulnerable to it, doctors say.

They said that new-born babies, and those with poorer immunity, such as those who have diabetes, cancer, and HIV, are usually more vulnerable to the infection.

"However, the current outbreak we are seeing is afflicting young adults and the old," Dr Leong Hoe Nam, Infectious Diseases Specialist from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital said.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it is jointly investigating a claim about a outbreak of GBS infection with the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), after a message about it went viral on Monday.

Hospital doctors also alerted MOH to an increase in cases of GBS infection here. A spokesman said that that one of the larger hospitals here has treated 76 cases of GBS infection so far this year, higher than the average of about 53 each year in the past five years.

MOH said that the strain is a "common bacterium that colonises the human gut and urinary tract" and does not usually cause disease in healthy individuals.

While the current cases have not been confirmed to be caused by the consumption of raw fish, Dr Leong pointed to research that shows that GBS is commonly found in tilapia.

Dr Leong said that the particular strain causing the infection currently appears to be "more potent," and may be evading the immune system and causing infection in more people than usual.

The infection can be treated with common antibiotics such as penicillin, Dr Leong said. He added that recognising it early and getting timely treatment is important. The most common symptom of an infection is a fever.

The infection usually manifests itself in the form of lung, soft tissue or joint infection. It can also come in the form of brain infection, said Dr Yik Keng Yeong, a general practitioner who has been practising for 35 years, said. Dr Leong has had one patient who died of the infection.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg