Novel 'cocoon strategy' to protect newborn infants from whooping cough

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Washington, Jan 27 : A new "cocoon strategy" vaccination program for protecting newborn infants from the grave infection pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, will be employed by the new Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research at Texas Children's Hospital.

The programme is led by C. Mary Healy, M.D., director of Vaccinology and Maternal Immunization at the Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research.

Whooping cough is one of the highly contagious bacterial infections of the respiratory system. Though, the disease may occur at any age, it can be serious and even life threatening to very young infants.

The cocoon strategy involves the vaccination of the baby's mother and other adolescent and adult family members in close contact with the infant, in order to keep the baby surrounded by individuals who cannot spread pertussis.

Usually, babies less than six months old are too young to have received all three doses of the whooping cough vaccine, and it has been shown by studies that more than 75 percent of infected babies contract pertussis from family members.

"The idea behind the cocoon strategy is that the vaccinated family members can block transmission of the infection to the unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated infant," said Healy.

In the program, Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research will provide whooping cough booster vaccines, known as Tdap, to almost 5,800 families at Houston's Ben Taub General Hospital (BTGH), administering more than 17,000 shots in the first year.

Dr. Healy said that the cocoon strategy requires first educating the mother and her family about pertussis and the Tdap vaccine before providing the booster vaccine. The researchers are ready to communicate with families in both English and Spanish.

"This program enables us to provide whooping cough education and booster vaccines to adolescent and adult family members who need it, helping protect the most vulnerable - newborn and young infants. At the same time, we will explore efficient processes to optimize this intervention and potentially reduce serious pertussis disease in our community," said Dr. Healy.

Dr. Healy said that the increase in pertussis cases is due to the fact that the vaccine received by most people during childhood eventually deteriorates. Those adolescents and adults who do not receive a booster vaccine are more prone to this infection. Also, the young infants lack full immunity before receiving three doses of the vaccine.

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