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Fighting infection with information

There’s great opportunity for pharmacy teams to get involved in health campaigns this summer and help to raise awareness about some serious issues.

There’s great opportunity for pharmacy teams to get involved in health campaigns this summer and help to raise awareness about some serious issues

As most of the nation will spend the summer months in the UK rather than abroad this year, pharmacy teams have more opportunity than ever to reach people in their communities. And although July isn’t the busiest month for health campaigns, there is still a lot to get involved in, particularly when it comes to raising awareness about group B Streptococcus (also known as group B Strep, Strep B, GBS) and hepatitis, which can help to make real difference for customers in need of support, information and signposting.

Life threatening infection

Pharmacy teams can kick off their health campaigning in July with Strep B Awareness Month.

“Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies, infecting two babies every day. Around one in five pregnant women carry GBS, and most of the time the infection in their newborn baby can be prevented by the pregnant person having antibiotics through a drip in labour,” explains Jane Plumb, chief executive of the charity Group B Strep Support. “However, around 20 per cent of pregnant women have not heard of group B Strep, and about half of UK hospitals don’t give expectant and new parents information about it. It’s vital that everyone plays their part in raising awareness.”

GBS is commonly misconstrued as a sexually transmitted disease, but it is actually a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines, rectum and vagina. Approximately 20-25 per cent of women carry GBS in their vagina and/or lower intestines, according to Group B Strep Support. Most women who have GBS have no symptoms and it is usually not harmful. However, occasionally, bacteria are transmitted to a baby during labour or after birth and cause serious infection, such as meningitis, sepsis or pneumonia.

Group B Strep Support highlights the following statistics:

  • Around one in every 1,750 babies in the UK and Ireland is diagnosed with early-onset GBS infection, which usually develops in newborn babies and babies up to six days old
  • Around one in every 2,700 babies is diagnosed with late-onset GBS infection, which develops in babies aged seven to 90 days
  • One in 19 babies (5.2 per cent) with early-onset GBS infection will die and of those that survive, one in 14 (7.4 per cent) will have a long-term disability
  • With late-onset GBS infection, one in 13 babies (7.7 per cent) will die and of those that survive, one in eight (12.4 per cent) will have a long-term disability.

Giving women antibiotics, such as penicillin, in labour reduces the risk of a baby developing a group B Strep infection by up to 91 per cent, the charity adds.

Knowledge is key

Even though the infection can make babies very ill, full recovery is possible with the right treatment, which is why Strep B Awareness Month is an important opportunity for pharmacy teams to help raise awareness of the condition and start conversations with new and expectant parents.

“Knowing about group B Strep when you’re pregnant and in the early weeks after birth can make a massive difference – most group B Strep infections in newborn babies can be prevented, and early treatment can and does save lives,” says Jane. “By identifying – even before they’re born – which babies are at raised risk of developing group B Strep infection and offering their mums targeted intravenous antibiotics in labour will save tiny lives.”

This year, Group B Strep Support wants to reach as many new and expectant parents as possible and get them talking with a healthcare professional. “Pharmacy teams can help raise awareness by displaying our leaflets and posters about group B Strep in their pharmacies. They can ask new and expectant parents if they’re aware of group B Strep and give them evidence-based information as well as signposting them to further support,” Jane advises.

People can also get involved using the hashtag #GBSAM2021 on social media and get active by taking part in the charity’s 3,000 Squats in July Challenge.

Pharmacy teams can signpost people to further information and support on group B Strep and pregnancy, signs of infection, options for private testing, and more, including where to order at home GBS testing kits to Group B Strep Support.

World Hepatitis Day: 28 July 2021

A person dies every 30 seconds from a hepatitis related illness and many of these people are unaware of their condition, according to the World Hepatitis Alliance. This is why ‘Hepatitis can’t wait’ is the theme for World Hepatitis Day 2021 on 28 July 2021. This builds on the aims from 2020 in which the charity took action to help the 290 million people worldwide unaware that they are living with hepatitis get a diagnosis, treatment and help save lives.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver and is often caused by a viral infection. Hepatitis C is the most common form of viral hepatitis in the UK and around 215,000 people are thought to be affected. The infection is normally spread through blood-to-blood contact, which can be common when sharing needles or even toothbrushes. It is estimated that around half of people who inject drugs have hepatitis C, according to the NHS. For community pharmacies providing a needle exchange service, starting conversations about hepatitis C with customers who use the service is a great way to improve awareness in such groups vulnerable to infection.

If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause liver failure and liver cancer, but there are treatments available and the NHS says that up to 90 per cent of people treated may be cured. Pharmacy teams can research where people can get tested for hepatitis C in their area and have this information on hand for customers. Tests can usually be obtained from GP surgeries, sexual health clinics and even antenatal clinics.

Pharmacy teams can also help to raise awareness about less commonly known forms of hepatitis, such as alcoholic hepatitis. This form of the disease is actually unrelated to infectious hepatitis, but it remains just as serious and potentially life-threatening. Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by the over consumption of alcohol for a long period of time. In rare cases it can also be caused by binge drinking – consuming a lot of alcohol in a short period of time. Many people may be unaware that they can develop hepatitis through drinking alcohol, so starting conversations in the pharmacy has the potential make a real difference to someone's health.

Pharmacy teams can download free campaign materials for World Hepatitis Day such as customisable posters and social media graphics, available in a range of languages, to help raise awareness of hepatitis in the pharmacy.

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