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Laboratory Information

CDC’s Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory provides laboratory support to United States health departments requesting assistance with isolation, identification, and sub-typing of Bordetella pertussis, B. parapertussis, B. holmesii, B. bronchiseptica, Corynebacterium diphtheriae, and C. ulcerans. The laboratory serves as a resource and outbreak support for state and local health departments, domestic and international researchers, and other laboratory and hospital personnel. In addition to serving as a resource for other laboratories, CDC is actively involved with the development, evaluation, implementation, and improvement of molecular and serologic methods, techniques and strategies to enhance the diagnosis and surveillance of agents causing pertussis and diphtheria.

Despite a widespread childhood vaccination program, pertussis remains endemic in the U.S. Difficulties with laboratory confirmation of B. pertussis have contributed to under-reporting of the disease. Prevention programs, surveillance activities, vaccine effectiveness studies, and outbreak management can be compromised by problematic testing for B. pertussis. CDC is currently researching methods to improve laboratory testing capabilities for B. pertussis by spearheading a clinical validation study to ensure that validated laboratory assays are available to assess and manage pertussis cases and outbreaks as well as to measure the real burden of pertussis disease. CDC is also actively researching new laboratory methods to better identify and characterize other Bordetella and Corynebacterium species. In addition to reference activities the laboratory is involved with domestic and international collaborative research projects that have direct public health relevance.

Reference Lab

Laboratorian plating a Bordetella pertussis specimenThe Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory can offer advice concerning laboratory procedures dealing with bacterial agents that cause pertussis and diphtheria such as isolation and identification of Bordetella and Corynebacterium organisms from clinical specimens, detection of organisms by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and testing serum for antibodies to pertussis toxin. CDC also performs characterization of B. pertussis isolates by serologic and molecular sub-typing methods for outbreak support and other public health concerns. Upon request, the laboratory can test for the presence of diphtheria toxin by the Elek assay for C. diphtheriae and C. ulcerans isolates. Together with Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch epidemiologists, the Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory can assist health departments during pertussis outbreaks or when a case of diphtheria is suspected. CDC maintains extensive culture collections that span several years and geographical locations.

Laboratory testing will be provided only upon prior communication with the Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory indicating the reason for this service. If there is a pertussis outbreak or suspected diphtheria case that requires assistance please call the number listed below.

If you have questions that your local health department cannot answer, contact CDC by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO or e-mailing cdcinfo@cdc.gov and request to be put in touch with the Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch.

Gram stain of Bordetella pertussis

Gram stain of Bordetella pertussis

Pathogens Studied at the CDC Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory

  • Bordetella pertussis
  • Bordetella parapertussis
  • Bordetella holmesii
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae
  • Corynebacterium ulcerans
  • Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis

Surveillance Manual

The Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases provides current guidelines for those directly involved in surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases, especially personnel at the local health departments.

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