Siblings said to be primary source of whopping cough infection in infants

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Infants are more likely to catch whopping cough or pertussis from their siblings rather than their moms, a new study based on government data has suggested.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, says that the latest finding doesn’t sit well with previous consideration that moms were the primary source of whopping cough infection in infants. The study says that the change in trend could be attributed partly to the increased frequency of whooping cough among school-aged children.

Vaccination commences at the age if 2 months, but before that infants are at the greatest risk of severe illness and death from whooping cough. To reduce this risk, experts have suggested two possible options – one involves vaccination of all the people who will come in close contact with the infant, and other involves vaccination of the pregnant women before they give birth.

According to the findings of the study, because the first option may not be effective and even practical to certain extent, the best option to would be increase the vaccination rates among pregnant women.

For the study, researchers collected data on 1,306 infants in seven states who were diagnosed between 2006 and 2013. Out of these 1,306, researchers were able to determine the source of infection in about half the children.

Researchers found that in a third of the cases, siblings were the primary source of infection while mothers were the primary source in one fifth of cases. Dads accounted for another 10 per cent.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease and typically begins with cold-like symptoms followed by severe coughing fits, although not all infants and young children develop a cough. Vaccination is the best way to defend against the disease, but until vaccines with longer-lasting immunity are developed, getting more women immunized during every pregnancy is the best way to protect infants said Tami Skoff, a researcher at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Outbreaks of whooping cough are common and cases spike every few years. Last year, nearly 29,000 cases were reported and eight infants died in the US, versus nearly 49,000 cases in 2012 — a peak year when 16 infants died, most of them younger than 3 months.