Whooping cough – also known as pertussis – can present high risk of severe illness and even death in infants. The respiratory tract infection is highly contagious, but a new study reveals that moms are not the ones that infect the babies, but rather their siblings.
Based on government data, the new research published in the journal Pediatrics disagrees with previous consideration that moms are the main source of pertussis infection in infants. The study attributes the change in trend to the increased rate of whooping cough cases reported among school-aged children.
First vaccination takes place when the infant is 2 months old, but before that the risk of catching the whooping cough is at its highest.
Two possible ways of reducing the risk have been proposed by experts; first, all people who come in close contact with the infant should be up-to-date with their pertussis vaccination. Second, all pregnant women should be vaccinated against the disease before they give birth.
Researchers rendered the first option less effective and its impracticality made them turn to the second best, recommending a drastic increase in vaccination rates among pregnant women. This solution has its appeal, as pregnant women are easier to keep record of, than of all the people that will be breathing the same air with the infant.
The research is based on data collected on more than 1,300 infants from seven different states; they were diagnosed with whooping cough between 2006 and 2013. Researchers determined the source of infection in approximately half of these cases.
It turns out that the largest slice of the cases had siblings as the primary source of infection – one in 3 babies caught the disease in this way. Mothers, on the other hand, were the primary source only in one fifth of cases, while fathers were responsible for another 10 percent.
In spite of its name, the highly contagious disease may never present cough as symptom, especially in infants and young children. Most cases typically begin with cold-like symptoms, sometimes followed by coughing fits that trouble breathing.
Doctors recommend vaccination as the best way to protect the organism against the disease. Current vaccines, however, don’t have that long-lasting immunity, so until those are developed, infants would be best protected by getting more women immunized during pregnancy.
Happening every few years, outbreaks of whooping cough are not that uncommon. During 2014, roughly 29,000 cases were reported in the US, and the disease was fatal for eight infants. In 2012, the disease took a bigger toll, with 16 dead infants and 49,000 infected.
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