University students with persistent cough of greater than or equal to 6 days' duration were evaluated for evidence of infection with Bordetella pertussis. Of 130 students studied during a 30-month period, 34 (26%) were found to have evidence of recent infections with B. pertussis. Infection was identified by direct fluorescent antibody assay of a nasopharyngeal specimen in one student and serologically in 33 additional subjects. B. pertussis was not recovered on culture of nasopharyngeal specimens from any subjects. Students with B. pertussis infection were identified in seven of the eight 3-month periods in which students were enrolled during the 30-month investigation, suggesting an endemic rather than epidemic pattern of infection in this university population. Illnesses of students with pertussis were similar to the illnesses of students without pertussis. The findings in this study suggest that adult populations in which endemic illness occurs at a relatively constant rate may be the reservoirs for pertussis outbreaks in susceptible children. Immunization programs in the future will need to employ booster doses for adults if complete control of B. pertussis infection is our goal.