He battled for life as a newborn baby.

But now a three-year-old boy is spearheading a national awareness campaign over a common but little known bacterium which can put the lives of new-born babies at risk.

Ralf Jones, of Golcar, contracted the infection at birth and developed potentially-fatal meningitis.

Little Ralf spent the first four weeks of life in hospital but has since made a good recovery.

Now he is the public face of a month-long awareness campaign by the charity Group B Strep Support.

Ralf’s mum Sally, 35, carried Group B Streptococcus (GBS), a normal gut bacteria carried by up to 30% of adults in the UK.

In pregnant women the bacterium can be passed to the baby in the birth canal leading to serious conditions including meningitis, pneumonia or septicemia.

Ralf developed meningitis but fought back to health.

Sally said: “It’s almost four years ago now but it still feels like yesterday.

“It was a really traumatic time but Ralf is one of the lucky ones.”

Sally did not have any risk factors or symptoms of GBS during pregnancy.

Ralf, however, became ill within six hours of being born at Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax.

Baby Ralf Jones in intensive care at Calderdale Royal Hospital, Halifax
Baby Ralf Jones in intensive care at Calderdale Royal Hospital, Halifax
 

“He didn’t feed voluntarily and after about 12 hours I asked a midwife to look at him,” she said.

“A doctor came to look at him and then another. He was not feeding and was jaundiced and needed to be put under a light box.

“That evening he was lethargic and struggling to breathe.

“The medical team put him into intensive care and on antibiotics and a respirator.

“He stopped breathing twice and was resuscitated. Overnight Ralf had two seizures and that afternoon the family was told he had GBS.”

Sally, who is married to Mitch, 37, told how Ralf was in intensive care for a week and on the special care unit until he was four weeks old.

He had brain scans, including an MRI, which showed changes to the brain and cysts, together with loss of white matter. The family was told that Ralf would most likely have problems with his movement and possibly some form of cerebral palsy.

He has been diagnosed with dyspraxia, which affects movement, but otherwise has met all his developmental milestones.

Sally had never heard of GBS and says a simple test around 35-37 weeks of pregnancy, carried out in other countries but not in Britain, could detect the bacterium.

Antibiotics can then deal with the infection.

When Sally gave birth to Ralf’s younger brother Sonny, now two, she was treated with intravenous antibiotics which cuts the chance of infection from one in 300 to one in 6,000.

Sally said: “Had a test been offered, Ralf’s condition could have been avoided.”

Mitch and a friend Kevin Folan are hoping to raise £500 for Group B Strep Support by taking part in the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross on September 29.

Coincidentally that day is Sally’s birthday and also the day that Ralf was diagnosed with meningitis.

To sponsor Mitch go to www.justgiving.com/mitchjones3peaks

FACTFILE

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in new-born babies in the UK.

GBS is present in the intestines of up to 30% of UK adults without symptoms or side-effects.

Treatment of GBS with antibiotics does not prevent a return of the infection.

One in 1,000 babies born in the UK every year have GBS. Of those infected 11% will die.

Risk factors in pregnancy include: GBS detected in a urine sample; previous siblings born with GBS; mother’s waters breaking more than 18 hours before delivery; labour starting or waters breaking before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy and mother having a fever during labour.

GBS infections in babies usually happen within seven days of birth with 90 per cent occurring within 24 hours. Symptoms include: grunting; poor feeding; lethargy; irritability; low blood pressure; abnormally high or low temperature and abnormally high or low heart rate or breathing rate.