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Specimen Collection

Determining who has pertussis can be difficult. Whenever possible, a nasopharyngeal (NP) swab or aspirate should be obtained from all persons with suspected cases. A properly obtained NP swab or aspirate is essential for optimal results (see Figures 1 & 2).

If culture is planned, once an NP swab has been collected it should be plated directly or placed into transport medium immediately. NP aspirates should be dispensed and plated within 24 hours of collection. The same specimen can be used both for culture and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). With PCR, the most rapid test, the specimen should ideally be collected during the first three weeks of illness, but may provide accurate results for up to 4 weeks. Culture has better specificity, but takes up to seven days to get results back.

Key Resource

Best Practices for Health Care Professionals on the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) for Diagnosing Pertussis

Best Practices for Health Care Professionals on the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) for Diagnosing Pertussis

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Pertussis Testing Video: Collecting a Nasopharyngeal Swab Clinical Specimen

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Running Time: 4:12
Released Date: Feb 2011

This video demonstrates proper techniques for collecting and transporting a pertussis clinical specimen obtained by swabbing the posterior nasopharynx.

en Español

This video is also available on YouTube in English and in Spanish.

Pertussis Testing Video: Collecting a Nasopharyngeal Aspirate Clinical Specimen

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Running Time: 4:14
Released Date: Feb 2011

This video demonstrates proper techniques for collecting and transporting a pertussis clinical specimen from the posterior nasopharynx obtained by aspiration.

en Español

This video is also available on YouTube in English and in Spanish.

Proper technique for obtaining a nasopharyngeal specimen for isolation of Bordetella pertussis

Figure 1

Image: Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, 4th ed, 2008

Figure 2

Image: Courtesy of CDC

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