A west Sussex-based national charity is calling on the Government to test pregnant women for a life-threatening infection that affects newborn babies.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a bacterium that is carried by one in four pregnant women and is usually harmless.

But without preventative medicine, about 700 babies could get sick from the infection each year, of whom 75 babies would die and another 40 would suffer serious ongoing health issues.

Currently, the 'gold standard' test for Group B Strep, which poses no risk to the mother or her baby, is available from only a handful of NHS hospitals and privately at a cost of £35 a test.

Charity Group B Strep Support is calling for every pregnant woman in the UK to be given accurate information about the infection as a routine part of her antenatal care and a national screening programme to be introduced on the NHS. It is also calling for those found to be carrying GBS, as well as those with risk factors that put their babies at higher risk of developing GBS to be offered intravenous antibiotics in labour. The charity is also looking to get 100,000 signatures for a petition seeking the routine offering of testing for GBS to all women late in pregnancy.

Group B Strep Support chief executive Jane Plumb lost her middle child Theo to the infection in 1996.

Mrs Plumb, from Haywards Heath, West Sussex, said: "Every mother-to-be should be informed about Group B Strep during her antenatal care and, if she or her health professionals want her to be tested for it in pregnancy, the 'gold standard' test should be available on the NHS.

"Being able to test pregnant women for Group B Strep within the NHS will I believe make a significant impact on the numbers of babies suffering preventable GBS infection. "

To sign Group B Strep Support's petition visit http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43712.