A PCR procedure for the detection of Bordetella pertussis in nasopharyngeal aspirates (NPAs) was developed with primers derived from the pertussis toxin promoter region. The amplification resulted in a 191-bp PCR product specific for B. pertussis. A total of 681 NPAs collected from children with cough lasting >7 days was evaluated by PCR and culture; 104 aspirates were positive by PCR and 93 by culture. Sixteen cases were positive only by PCR and five culture positive aspirates were negative by PCR. An internal control was included in the assay to monitor the performance of the PCR and to identify possible inhibitory components in clinical samples. The PCR method was more efficient than culture in detecting B. pertussis in samples collected late in the disease, in antibiotic-treated children and in patients with mild disease.