Pertussis is poorly controlled, with the highest rates of morbidity and mortality among infants. Although the source of infant pertussis is often unknown, when identified, mothers have historically been the most common reservoir of transmission. Despite high vaccination coverage, disease incidence has been increasing. We examined whether infant source of infection (SOI) has changed in the United States in light of the changing epidemiology.
Cases <1 year old were identified at Enhanced Pertussis Surveillance sites between January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2013. SOI was collected during patient interview and was defined as a suspected pertussis case in contact with the infant case 7 to 20 days before infant cough onset.
A total of 1306 infant cases were identified; 24.2% were <2 months old. An SOI was identified for 569 cases. Infants 0 to 1 months old were more likely to have an SOI identified than 2- to 11-month-olds (54.1% vs 40.2%, respectively; P < .0001). More than 66% of SOIs were immediate family members, most commonly siblings (35.5%), mothers (20.6%), and fathers (10.0%); mothers predominated until the transition to siblings beginning in 2008. Overall, the SOI median age was 14 years (range: 0–74 years); median age for sibling SOIs was 8 years.
In contrast to previous studies, our data suggest that the most common source of transmission to infants is now siblings. While continued monitoring of SOIs will optimize pertussis prevention strategies, recommendations for vaccination during pregnancy should directly increase protection of infants, regardless of SOI.