From December 1990 to November 1993 nasopharyngeal specimens were obtained for culture from 50 children (mean 4.9 +/- 3.3 months of age) who had died suddenly. Bordetella pertussis was not isolated. Subsequently, nasopharyngeal specimens for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis were obtained from another 51 victims of sudden death (mean 5.4 +/- 4.4 months of age); nine (18%) were B. pertussis positive.
Conclusion: Our findings support previous epidemiological studies which noted an association between epidemic pertussis and sudden infant death syndrome. Further PCR studies with both internal and external controls should be performed.