Trends in pertussis among infants in the United States, 1980-1999

JAMA. 2003 Dec 10;290(22):2968-75. doi: 10.1001/jama.290.22.2968.


Context: Reported cases of pertussis among adolescents and adults have increased since the 1980s, despite increasingly high rates of vaccination among infants and children. However, severe pertussis morbidity and mortality occur primarily among infants.

Objective: To describe the trends and characteristics of reported cases of pertussis among infants younger than 12 months in the United States from 1980 to 1999.

Design, setting, and participants: Cases of pertussis in infants younger than 12 months in the United States reported to the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1980 and 1999, and detailed case data from the Supplementary Pertussis Surveillance System.

Main outcome measures: Incidence and demographic and clinical characteristics of cases.

Results: The incidence of reported cases of pertussis among infants increased 49% in the 1990s compared with the incidence in the 1980s (19 798 vs 12 550 cases reported; 51.1 cases vs 34.2 cases per 100 000 infant population, respectively). Increases in the incidence of cases and the number of deaths among infants during the 1990s primarily were among those aged 4 months or younger, contrasting with a stable incidence of cases among infants aged 5 months or older. The proportion of cases confirmed by bacterial culture was higher in the 1990s than in the 1980s (50% and 33%, respectively); the proportion of hospitalized cases was unchanged (67% vs 68%, respectively). Receipt of fewer doses of vaccine was associated with hospitalization, when cases were stratified by age in months.

Conclusions: The incidence of reported cases of pertussis among infants increased in the 1990s compared with the 1980s. The limited age group affected, the increased rate of bacteriologic confirmation, and the unchanged severity of illness suggest that an increase in infant pertussis has occurred apart from any change in reporting. Strategies are needed to prevent the morbidity and mortality from pertussis among infants too young to be fully vaccinated, according to the current recommended schedules of vaccination in the United States.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bordetella pertussis / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Pertussis Vaccine
  • Population Surveillance
  • Seasons
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vaccination
  • Whooping Cough / epidemiology*
  • Whooping Cough / ethnology
  • Whooping Cough / prevention & control


  • Pertussis Vaccine