A heartbroken mother whose 12-day-old son died in her arms of Group B Streptococcus is taking her campaign to raise awareness of the preventable infection to the Scottish Parliament, reports Janice Burns.
Our sister title The National reports that Shaheen McQuade, 25, and her partner Craig Blackie, 32, have collected more than 12,000 signatures in support of their campaign calling for routine screening of pregnant women. They will present their petition to MSPs today in the hope they will back their demands for urgent action in a bid to save babies’ lives.
Shaheen, from Bellshill, Lanarkshire, said: “I feel very strongly about this as I lost my precious son to this awful infection when it could have been prevented. I want to ensure no other parent has to experience the pain and devastation I have.”
When Shaheen gave birth to her first child, “beautiful, happy, healthy, perfect baby Zach” weighting, 7lb 10oz, on August 2 last year it was the best day of her life.
But 12 days later Zach was taken to Wishaw General Hospital and diagnosed with bacterial meningitis Group B Strep, contracted from his mother during birth.
After being transferred to Yorkhill Children’s Hospital in Glasgow, the couple were told the bacteria had "destroyed his brain” and Zach died in his mother’s arms. Shaheen, a business order manager for Virgin Media, and Craig, a painter and decorator, who have been together for three years, spoke about their ordeal to raise awareness of their cause and ensure no other parents have to go through the same pain.
During her pregnancy Shaheen had several urine infections and protein in her urine. Her waters broke early and when she went into labour she had a high temperature, which are all symptoms of Group B Strep, but she says no healthcare workers raised the possibility that she could have Group B Strep.
Shaheen sobbed as she recalled the day baby Zach died. “We took a lock of his hair, and hand and footprints," she said. "I held him in my arms for hours after he died and told him how much we loved him. It didn’t want to let him go.
“I don’t want any other babies or parents to suffer the way we did.
“I believe every pregnant woman should be routinely tested, made aware and educated on Group B Strep infections. Every baby and parent should be spared a lifetime of pain, suffering and disability if it can be avoided by a simple routine test and precautions throughout labour.
“I have asked why mothers are not routinely swabbed when they go into labour and as of yet have not received a satisfactory explanation. No mother should ever have to cope with losing a baby, however to live with the knowledge that it was preventable is a million times worse.
“I am fighting for there to be more awareness surrounding Group B Strep and for the Group B Strep test to be compulsory for all expectant mothers.”
The couple’s MSP and convener of Holyrood’s petitions committee, Michael McMahon, said the petition had received a lot of support.
He added: “I have met with Shaheen and the story is heartbreaking and it really does make you wonder if we can’t find a way of protecting mothers and babies when it seems the costs would be so small in comparison to the value of a life.”
Dr Dina McLellan, NHS Lanarkshire consultant obstetrician, expressed her sympathy for the couple.
She said: “In keeping with standard UK practice, we follow the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecology guidelines and we do not routinely swab women for Group B streptococcus (GBS) unless they have an identifiable risk factor including a past history of GBS, preterm rupture of the membranes or temperature during labour.
“Although we cannot comment on individual cases, it is important to highlight that the guidelines are for the prevention of early onset GBS only – there is no screening or preventative programme for late- onset GBS.”
NHS fails to offer £11 life-saving tests
A SIMPLE £11 test could help save the lives of hundreds of babies if it was offered on the NHS, and the UK is one of only a handful of developed nations not to test mothers-to-be for Group B Strep.
Although harmless to the mother, the bacterial infection can be passed on during labour and one in ten babies infected with it will die.
Of those who survive, about one in 12 suffer major long-term health problems including cerebral palsy, blindness and developmental delays.
Ten per cent more babies were affected in 2014 than in previous years, and other countries that routinely screen for Group B Strep have seen falls in the rate of these infections in newborn babies by up to 86 per cent.
The Meningitis Research Foundation is researching a vaccination for pregnant women to protect unborn babies from the Group Strep B infection.
The organisation's Scotland manager Mary Millar said: “GBS is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in newborn babies and tackling the disease is a high priority for Meningitis Research Foundation.
“The introduction of routine screening of pregnant women and antibiotic therapy in labour could reduce cases across Scotland.
“Ultimately we hope to see the introduction of GBS vaccines for pregnant women to prevent death and disability in babies – the group most vulnerable to meningitis – and we are funding research to evaluate the potential costs and benefits of vaccine introduction.”