We aimed to provide a quantitative description of decay in pertussis antibody levels to aid in finding a serological estimate of the incidence of pertussis. The serum IgG response against pertussis toxin was studied in a group of clinically diagnosed patients. Individual records consisted of repeated serum IgG measurements at irregular intervals for up to 10 years post diagnosis. These data were analysed with a nonlinear regression model taking into account censoring at upper and lower threshold levels, measurement errors, and individual variation in the shape and magnitude of the immune response. There was considerable variation between individual responses, both in strength (amplitude) and duration (shape). The inverse model relating IgG levels to time from infection (diagnosis) can be applied to cross-sectional IgG data to generate distributions of times from infection, which may be used to calculate infection rates and their variation, in populations sampled for cross-sectional IgG data.
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