Background: Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease and the most serious effects occur in young infants. Recently it has been shown that rapid and highly specific PCR can be a useful diagnostic tool for detection of pertussis infection. To our knowledge there are no previous studies concerning the disappearance of Bordetella pertussis DNA from the nasopharynx during antimicrobial treatment.
Methods: We studied prospectively how rapidly live B. pertussis organisms and DNA of these bacteria disappear from the nasopharynx during erythromycin therapy in unvaccinated infants. Eighty-five nasopharyngeal swabs obtained from nine erythromycin-treated infants with pertussis on consecutive days during hospitalization were tested by PCR and culture. The PCR products were further analyzed by Southern hybridization.
Results: On the fourth day of treatment 56% of the samples were positive by culture and 89% by PCR, whereas after 7 days the rates were 0 and 56%, respectively. In seven of nine patients PCR remained positive for 1 to 7 days longer than culture. The follow-up study also showed the semiquantitative nature of the PCR assay. The intensity of the PCR products in agarose gel usually weakened with time during erythromycin therapy.
Conclusions: The results of this study show that PCR assay can achieve the specific diagnosis of pertussis infection in a large proportion of infants even when antimicrobial treatment has killed the organisms and culture is no longer positive.