A real-time PCR method targeting the Bordetella pertussis IS481 gene fragment was evaluated in a vaccine trial setting in which real-time PCR results could be validated against culture and serology results. Two commonly used DNA extraction methods, Amplicor Respiratory Preparation kit and the QIAamp DNA Mini Kit, were compared. An approximately 50-fold higher sensitivity was achieved using the Amplicor kit. 89 of 276 aspirates analysed with the IS481 real-time PCR were positive. Interestingly, six of these were culture negative and came from serology-negative patients. Defining true positive cases either as culture-positive or as PCR-positive cases that had been confirmed with a serology-positive result or verified with a newly constructed recA PCR, the sensitivity and specificity of the IS481 real-time PCR were 89% and 98%, respectively. This study confirms the specificity and high diagnostic sensitivity of IS481-based PCR methods for diagnosis of B. pertussis.