Role of Maternal Pertussis Antibodies in Infants

Van Rie, Annelies MD, PhD*; Wendelboe, Aaron M. MSPH*; Englund, Janet A. MD†

Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal: May 2005 - Volume 24 - Issue 5 - pp S62-S65
3. Prevention and Treatment

Pertussis remains a serious infection in young infants. Most deaths occur in the first 3 months of life, before administration of the first dose of pertussis vaccine. Pertussis antibodies are transferred from mother to infant; but because of the lack of serologic correlates of protection, it is difficult to determine the proportion of infants born with a protective concentration of maternal antibodies. Indirect evidence suggests that maternal antibodies provide short lived protection against fatal pertussis. It is hoped that the protection of young infants could be enhanced by maternal or neonatal vaccination. The possibility of protecting young infants against pertussis by immunizing their mothers during pregnancy was investigated in the 1930s and 1940s; no further studies have been published since. Recent animal and human studies have provided evidence that neonatal immunization with acellular pertussis vaccine can efficiently prime T and B cells and act as a basis for future immune response. The limited data on neonatal and maternal pertussis immunization are promising and call for further research to reduce the vulnerability of young infants to pertussis disease.

From the *Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC; and the †Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Address for correspondence: Dr Annelies Van Rie, Department of Epidemiology, McGavran-Greenberg Hall, University of North Carolina, CB# 7435, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7435. Fax 919-966-2089; E-mail

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.