A common bacteria found in many healthy adult females that can cause life-threatening infections when passed to newborns could be introduced to some women through frequent contact with cows, according to a research team led by a Michigan State University pediatrician.

The recently published findings that Group B streptococcus (GBS) could be a zoonotic disease  —transmitted between different species — may have significant public health implications, said Dele Davies, chairperson of MSU's Department of Pediatrics and Human Development.

While GBS affects only 1 in every 2,000 babies, and there are prenatal tests to identify it, Davies says understanding how women are infected could greatly reduce transmission rates. Efforts have been made to understand the risk factors that lead to transmission from mothers to babies, but it hasn't been established how mothers originally acquire it.

As part of the study, MSU researchers conducted a cross-sectional cohort study of 68 families and their livestock. Increased frequency of cattle exposure was significantly associated with human infection, and one couple shared the same GBS strains as their cows, suggesting zoonotic transmission.

The researchers say more study is needed.

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Source: Michigan State University