Preventing respiratory infections by measuring family interactions through wearable sensors: a new study on infants and pertussis

Among respiratory infections, pertussis represents a public health priority, being particularly harmful to young, unvaccinated infants. For these patients, family members represent the main sources of transmission. So describing and understanding close proximity interactions within households can provide key information on trasmission opportunities and it can be useful to plan prevention strategies for protecting young infants from pertussis and other respiratory infections.

Close encounters between infants and household members measured through wearable proximity sensors is a new paper, just published in Plos One, that reports on the use of wearable proximity sensors based on RFID technology to measure face-to-face proximity between family members. Co-authored by ISI Foundation Researcher Laura Ozella, Research Leader Michele Tizzoni and Scientific Director Ciro Cattuto, the study has been developed in the context of a national research project in Rome, Italy, and it is the first quantitative assessment of social contact patterns in households with infants younger than 6 months, based on a technology that allows for high-resolution measurements of social contacts.

Results show that using wearable sensors based on RFID technology is feasible for obtaining a precise measurement of the pattern of close contacts among individuals living in the same house (and it may overcome the recall bias which is intrinsic to diary-based studies). Moreover, findings suggest a difference in contact patterns between family members: the mother has significantly more frequent and longer contacts with the infant, thus being the main potential source of infection. Results may have implication for vaccination strategies, representing a further evidence in favour of maternal vaccination against pertussis during pregnancy.

Close encounters between infants and household members measured through wearable proximity sensors, Laura Ozella, Francesco Gesualdo, Michele Tizzoni, Caterina Rizzo, Elisabetta Pandolfi, Ilaria Campagna, Alberto Eugenio Tozzi, Ciro Cattuto, Plos One, 7th June 2018. Link: