Young children played a major role in pneumococcal nasopharyngeal carriage, acquisition, and transmission in the era before pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) use. Few studies document pneumococcal household dynamics in the routine-PCV7 era.
We investigated age-specific acquisition, household introduction, carriage clearance, and intra-household transmission in a prospective, longitudinal, observational cohort study of pneumococcal nasopharyngeal carriage in 300 American Indian households comprising 1,072 participants between March 2006 and March 2008.
Pneumococcal acquisition rates were 2–6 times higher in children than adults. More household introductions of new pneumococcal strains were attributable to children <9 years than adults ≥17 years (p<0.001), and older children (2–8 years) than younger children (<2 years) (p<0.008). Compared to children <2 years, carriage clearance was more rapid in older children (2–4 years, HRclearance 1.53 [95% CI: 1.22, 1.91]; 5–8 years, HRclearance 1.71 [1.36, 2.15]) and adults (HRclearance 1.75 [1.16, 2.64]). Exposure to serotype-specific carriage in older children (2–8 years) most consistently increased the odds of subsequently acquiring that serotype for other household members.
In this community with a high burden of pneumococcal colonization and disease and routine PCV7 use, children (particularly older children 2–8 years) drive intra-household pneumococcal transmission: first, by acquiring, introducing, and harboring pneumococcus within the household, and then by transmitting acquired serotypes more efficiently than household members of other ages.