Vaccine study questions whether adults spread whooping cough

New research boldly goes where none had gone before, but local pediatric doctors stand by family whooping cough vaccinations.

Less than three years ago, Texas Children’s Hospital unveiled a first-of-its-kind program to protect babies from the nation’s growing incidence of whooping cough, a “cocoon strategy” that provides parents and other family members vaccine booster shots so they don’t unwittingly spread the life-threatening infection to the more vulnerable infant.

But a new study calls into question the idea that infected adults are behind recent outbreaks, such as an ongoing one in California that has now killed 10 babies and prompted its state officials to recommend shots for nearly everyone. The study says that even if 75 percent of adults received pertussis booster stots, it would reduce cases by only 15 percent.

“The role of adults in transmission is minimal,” and blanket booster-vaccination of adults is unlikely to be an efficient strategy for controlling the disease, epidemiologist Aaron King said in a University of Michigan press release about the study.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, found the infection was mostly passed on from child to child. The researchers looked into whooping cough incidence in Sweden during a 17-year halt in pertussis vaccination and then again after the European country resumed the program.

A Texas Children’s official said the study raised no red flags about its program, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending in 2006, because the Michigan researchers’ point involved the control of whooping cough at a population level. Dr. C. Mary Healy of the Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research at Texas Children’s said the cocoon strategy is absolutely protective at an individual family level, noting studies show most U.S. deaths from whooping cough occur when a family member unknowingly passes on the infection to an infant not yet old enough to be vaccinated.

Under the cocoon strategy program, still little implemented by other hospitals, Texas Children’s has now immunized nearly 15,000 families (just the mothers in 75 percent of those). The hospital does not yet have data on any incidence of whooping cough in those families.

But there may be one indication the strategy’s working. Unlike the state of California, the city of Houston has reported no outbreaks of whooping cough in that time.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, November 14th, 2010 at 6:49 am and is filed under Health Notes. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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