Background: Whereas the diagnosis of classical pertussis has traditionally been based on clinical criteria, increasing numbers of atypical presentations suggest the need for an extensive laboratory-based approach.
Objectives: To assess the relative efficacy of clinical and laboratory methods in the diagnosis of Bordetella pertussis by patient age and immunization status.
Methods: We compared the clinical and laboratory diagnosis of B. pertussis in 87 pre-vaccinated, 78 recently vaccinated, and 75 post-vaccinated children with suspected pertussis. Serum and nasopharyngeal swabs were obtained for serology, culture and polymerase chain reaction.
Results: PCR and culture identified 41% and 7% of patients with B. pertussis, respectively (P < 0.001). All positive cultures were PCR-positive. Positive PCR was less common among those recently vaccinated than among those in the pre- (P < 0.001) and post-vaccinated groups (P < 0.05). Positive culture was more common among those pre-vaccinated than among those recently vaccinated (P < 0.01). Positive tests for immunoglobulin M and A were more common among the post-vaccinated than the pre- and recently vaccinated (P < 0.001), respectively. Logistic regression analyses revealed that clinical criteria have no significant association with infection in recently and post-vaccinated children. Among the pre-vaccinated children, whoop and cough duration were associated with a positive PCR (odds ratio 7.66 and 0.5, P < 0.001). Seventy-six percent of pre-vaccinated, 39% of recently vaccinated and 40% of post-vaccinated children with positive PCR did not meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control diagnostic criteria for B. pertussis.
Conclusions: PCR is a useful tool for pertussis diagnosis, particularly in pre-vaccinated infants. The yield of culture and serology is limited, especially among pre- and recently vaccinated children. In pre-vaccinated infants with whoop and less than 2 weeks of cough, PCR testing should be implemented promptly.