Sources of pertussis infection in young infants: a review of key evidence informing targeting of the cocoon strategy

Vaccine. 2013 Jan 11;31(4):618-25. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2012.11.052. Epub 2012 Nov 29.


Background: The relative contribution of different categories of contact in transmitting pertussis to very young infants, who experience the most severe morbidity, is the most important single factor determining the likely benefit of pertussis vaccination of their close contacts (the "cocooning" strategy).

Objective: To identify, evaluate the quality of and summarise existing data on potential sources of infant pertussis infection in high income countries, focussing on infants under 6 months old.

Data sources: Online databases MEDLINE and EMBASE. Additional studies were identified from the reference lists of relevant articles. Study selection and analysis: Study quality was evaluated by standardised criteria, based on the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) statement. Pooled estimates of the proportion of pertussis cases attributable to various contact sources were calculated using data from the highest quality studies.

Results: Nine studies met the inclusion criteria; seven included data on contacts of hospitalised infants less than 6 months old. Case definitions and methods of contact ascertainment were variable. Most identified sources were from the household, of which 39% (95%CI 33-45%) were mothers, 16% (95%CI 12-21%) fathers, and 5% (95%CI 2-10%) grandparents. Estimates for siblings (16-43%) and non-household contacts (4-22%) were more heterogeneous. For 32-52% of infant cases, no source was identified. Asymptomatic pertussis infection was found in 8-13% of contacts evaluated.

Conclusions: These data suggest that the greatest potential impact of pertussis vaccination of adults to prevent severe disease in young infants comes from vaccinating mothers, followed by fathers, with grandparents having a minor role. Siblings varied in importance and, given recent data regarding waning immunity in vaccinated children, need further study. Non-household sources are also well documented, highlighting the potential limitations of the cocoon strategy to prevent severe infant disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunization
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Pertussis Vaccine / administration & dosage*
  • Whooping Cough / epidemiology
  • Whooping Cough / prevention & control
  • Whooping Cough / transmission*


  • Pertussis Vaccine