The introduction of vaccination in the 1950s significantly reduced the morbidity and mortality of pertussis. However, since the 1990s, a resurgence of pertussis has been observed in vaccinated populations, and a number of causes have been proposed for this phenomenon, including improved diagnostics, increased awareness, waning immunity, and pathogen adaptation. The resurgence of pertussis highlights the importance of standardized, sensitive, and specific laboratory diagnoses, the lack of which is responsible for the large differences in pertussis notifications between countries. Accurate laboratory diagnosis is also important for distinguishing between the several etiologic agents of pertussis-like diseases, which involve both viruses and bacteria. If pertussis is diagnosed in a timely manner, antibiotic treatment of the patient can mitigate the symptoms and prevent transmission. During an outbreak, timely diagnosis of pertussis allows prophylactic treatment of infants too young to be (fully) vaccinated, for whom pertussis is a severe, sometimes fatal disease. Finally, reliable diagnosis of pertussis is required to reveal trends in the (age-specific) disease incidence, which may point to changes in vaccine efficacy, waning immunity, and the emergence of vaccine-adapted strains. Here we review current approaches to the diagnosis of pertussis and discuss their limitations and strengths. In particular, we emphasize that the optimal diagnostic procedure depends on the stage of the disease, the age of the patient, and the vaccination status of the patient.
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