Frequency of unrecognized Bordetella pertussis infections in adults

Clin Infect Dis. 1995 Sep;21(3):639-42. doi: 10.1093/clinids/21.3.639.


To investigate the frequency of unrecognized Bordetella pertussis infections in adults, we performed IgA and IgG ELISA antibody studies with four B. pertussis antigens--i.e., lymphocytosis-promoting factor, filamentous hemagglutinin, pertactin, and fimbriae-2--in 51 health care workers from whom six consecutive yearly serum samples (from 1984 to 1989) were available. Overall, 90% of the subjects had a significant increase in antibody (IgA or IgG) to one or more antigens between 2 consecutive years during the 5-year study period; 55% of subjects had evidence of two infections, 17% had three infections, and 4% had four infections. Infections occurred in all study years, with the following rates: 1984-1985, 32%; 1985-1986, 24%; 1986-1987, 40%; 1987-1988, 29%; and 1988-1989, 43% (P = .12). Some antibody rises may have been due to responses to cross-reacting antigens (Bordetella parapertussis, nontypable Haemophilus influenzae), but overall these data suggest that B. pertussis infections in adults are common, endemic, and usually unrecognized.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / blood
  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Bordetella pertussis / immunology
  • Female
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A / blood
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Los Angeles / epidemiology
  • Time Factors
  • Whooping Cough / diagnosis
  • Whooping Cough / epidemiology*
  • Whooping Cough / immunology


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Immunoglobulin G