THE mother of a terminally ill baby girl has joined calls for all pregnant women to be routinely screened for an infection which in rare cases can prove fatal.

Rachel Hetherington’s eight-week-old daughter, Briannah, contracted Group B Streptococcus (GBS) during labour and went onto develop meningitis, leading to irreversible brain damage.

GBS is a natural bacteria which occurs in the digestive tract and lower vaginal tract of about one quarter of women and causes no harm at all.

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Pregnant women carrying GBS can pass the bacteria on to their babies and while the vast majority experience no ill-effect, a small proportion become ill and about 40 babies a year die.

Miss Hetherington, from Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, was tested for GBS when she was 25-weeks pregnant after suffering stomach pain and bleeding.

She tested positive and was told she would receive antibiotics while in labour to help prevent the infection passing to her daughter.

However, when her daughter was born prematurely, at 32 weeks, on March 25, Miss Hetherington claims complications meant she failed to receive the antibiotics required, resulting in Briannah becoming seriously ill.

Despite having been tested for GBS herself, Miss Hetherington, who also has a three-year-old son, Layton-Lewis, is unhappy the test is not routinely offered to pregnant women and is supporting groups such as Group B Strep Support which are campaigning for this to be changed.

“It’s not about Briannah now,” she said. “There is nothing anyone can do for her but if I can help other babies by raising awareness I have to do it.”

Mother of babies at high risk of GBS can receive antibiotics during labour but the UK National Screening Committee does not recommend screening for all pregnant women.

This is because tests cannot predict whether mothers will have the infection by the time they go into labour and it is estimated up to 49,000 women per year who test positive would be clear by the time they give birth.

The committee found insufficient evidence to show the benefits of screening would outweigh the potential harm caused by the unnecessary use of antibiotics at labour.

Arrangements have been made for Miss Hetherington to care for Briannah at home and, cradled in her mother’s arms the youngster looks peaceful.

“I was asked if I wanted her to go into a hospice but I said no,” said the devastated mother-of-two. “I’m her mum I have to be strong and do everything I can for my daughter while she is still with us.”

Miss Hetherington is organising a fundraising night in Newton Aycliffe on Saturday, June 6 to raise funds the paediatric intensive care unit at James Cook University Hospital Middlesbrough, where Briannah was treated after becoming ill.

Any businesses able to donate raffle or auction prizes should contact her on 07518882149 or abby.hepple@hotmail.co.uk