Massachusetts provides diphtheria-tetanus toxoid-pertussis (DTP) vaccine, and since 1980 has monitored pertussis with a statewide diagnostic service. The incidence of bacteriologically confirmed pertussis was 104.5 per 100,000 person-years in 1-month-old infants and declined progressively thereafter. Infants < 6 months old experienced disproportionate morbidity: 44% of bacteriologically confirmed pertussis, 64% of hospitalizations, and 71% of hospital days. Most children with pertussis had received < 3 DTP doses during childhood, whereas 87% of adolescents with pertussis had received > or = 4 doses. Serodiagnosis by single serum anti-pertussis toxin antibody ELISA increased the incidence of confirmed pertussis in persons 11-19 years old from 3.0 to 12.9 per 100,000 and in persons > or = 20 years old from 0.16 to 0.56 per 100,000. Bacteriologic methods underestimate pertussis incidence, but a single serum anti-pertussis toxin antibody ELISA is a practical method for population-based diagnosis in adolescents and adults.