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Pertussis / Whooping Cough (Bordetella pertussis)
1996 Case Definition

NOTE: A surveillance case definition is a set of uniform criteria used to define a disease for public health surveillance. Surveillance case definitions enable public health officials to classify and count cases consistently across reporting jurisdictions. Surveillance case definitions are not intended to be used by healthcare providers for making a clinical diagnosis or determining how to meet an individual patient’s health needs.

Clinical Description

A cough illness lasting greater than or equal to 2 weeks with one of the following: paroxysms of coughing, inspiratory "whoop," or post-tussive vomiting, without other apparent cause

Laboratory Criteria for Diagnosis

  • Isolation of Bordetella pertussis from clinical specimen, OR
  • Positive polymerase chain reaction for B. pertussis

Case Classification


A case that meets the clinical case definition, is not laboratory confirmed, and is not epidemiologically linked to a laboratory-confirmed case


A case that is laboratory confirmed or one that meets the clinical case definition and is either laboratory confirmed or epidemiologically linked to a laboratory-confirmed case


The clinical case definition is appropriate for endemic or sporadic cases. In outbreak settings, a case may be defined as a cough illness lasting greater than or equal to 2 weeks. Because some studies have documented that direct fluorescent antibody testing of nasopharyngeal secretions has low sensitivity and variable specificity, it should not be relied on as a criterion for laboratory confirmation1, 2. Serologic testing for pertussis is available in some areas but is not standardized and, therefore, should not be relied on as a criterion for laboratory confirmation for national reporting purposes. Both probable and confirmed cases should be reported to NNDSS.


  1. Broome CV, Fraser DW, English WJ. Pertussis--diagnostic methods and surveillance. In: Manclark CR, Hill JC, eds. International Symposium on Pertussis. Bethesda, MD: US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, 1979; DHEW publication no. (NIH)79-1830:19-22.
  2. Halperin SA, Bortolussi R, Wort AJ. Evaluation of culture, immunofluorescence, and serology for the diagnosis of pertussis. J Clin Microbiol 1989;27:752-7.