Specimen Collection

Determining who has pertussis can be difficult. Whenever possible, clinicians should obtain a nasopharyngeal (NP) swab or aspirate 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, directly plate the collected NP swab or immediately place it into transport medium. Laboratory scientists should plate NP swabs and aspirates 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, ideally collect the specimen during the first 3 weeks of illness. However, PCR may provide accurate results for up to 4 weeks. Culture has better specificity, but takes up to 7 days to obtain results. For culture, clinicians ideally need to collect the specimen during the first 2 weeks of illness.

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

Best Practices for Healthcare Professionals on the Use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) for Diagnosing Pertussis

Pertussis Testing Video: Collecting a Nasopharyngeal Swab Clinical Specimen

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.

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

Pertussis Testing Video: Collecting a Nasopharyngeal Aspirate Clinical Specimen

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.

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

Proper Technique for Obtaining a Nasopharyngeal Specimen for Isolation of Bordetella pertussis
Collecting a Nasopharyngeal Swab Clinical Specimen in sitting position

Image: Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, 2015

Obtaining a Nasopharyngeal Specimen for Isolation of <em>Bordetella pertussis</em> in horizontal position

Image: Courtesy of CDC

Page last reviewed: November 18, 2019