Case study: Tx. hospital 'cocoons' to contain whooping cough

Hoping to contain what is becoming an epidemic of whooping cough, Houston, Tx.-based Texas Children's Hospital has launched a program designed to contain the infection by immunizing family members. Hospital officials say that this program can effectively prevent whooping cough within the most vulnerable population, infants less than 6 months. More than 75 percent of infants who get whooping cough are infected by other members of their household; in 33 percent of the cases it's mothers, 16 percent of the time fathers and 19 percent of the time siblings.

Under this "cocoon strategy," parents who might spread the infection are given booster shots. The $35 shot will be given free of charge to 5,800 families the first year, delivering a total of about 17,000 shots. The program is funded by a joint grant from the Methodist hospital and Baylor College of Medicine.

The hospital is taking this step as the number of diagnosed cases of whooping cough in the U.S. spikes. More than 25,000 cases of the infection were reported in 2004 and 2005, three times more than in the 90s and at least six times more than in the 80s. Levels are at the highest they've been since the 1950s, public health officials say.

To learn more about the program:
- read this Houston Chronicle piece

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