How is pertussis (whooping cough) diagnosed?

Updated: May 02, 2019
  • Author: Joseph J Bocka, MD; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
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The diagnosis of pertussis is made by isolation of B pertussis in culture. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test can also be performed.

  • The culture specimen should be obtained during the first 2 weeks of cough by using deep nasopharyngeal aspiration

  • For PCR testing, nasopharyngeal specimens should be taken at 0-3 weeks following cough onset

  • The CDC recommends a combination of culture and PCR assay if a patient has a cough lasting longer than 3 weeks

  • Early serial monitoring of white blood cell (WBC) counts is warranted

See Workup for more detail.

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