CDC's Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory

Key points

  • CDC has a laboratory focused on innovative research related to pertussis and diphtheria.
  • CDC maintains extensive culture collections that span several years and geographical locations.
  • Our team can assist health departments and public health laboratories upon request.
Diphtheria bacteria growing on a Tinsdale plate.

Our work

As its name implies, CDC's Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory focuses on pertussis- and diphtheria-related pathogens. CDC maintains extensive culture collections that span several years and geographical locations.

Pathogens related to pertussis and diphtheria

  • Bordetella pertussis
  • B. bronchiseptica
  • B. holmesii
  • B. bronchiseptica
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae
  • C. pseudotuberculosis
  • C. ulcerans

Key activities

Key activities for the Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory include:

  • Researching new and improved laboratory methods
  • Helping U.S. laboratories, including in response to outbreaks
  • Building international diagnostic capacity

Innovative laboratory research

CDC's Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory works to enhance the diagnosis and surveillance of agents that cause pertussis or diphtheria.

The laboratory does that by researching methods to improve laboratory testing capabilities. Specifically, CDC actively develops, evaluates, implements, and improves molecular and serologic methods, techniques, and strategies.

U.S. laboratory support

Reference laboratory

As a reference laboratory, CDC's Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory supports U.S. health departments and public health laboratories with

  • Pathogen isolation and identification from clinical specimens
  • Outbreak response
  • Priority public health concerns

Pathogen isolation and identification

Related to Bordetella and Corynebacterium, the laboratory can offer advice concerning laboratory procedures dealing with

  • Isolation and identification of organisms from clinical specimens
  • Detection of organisms by polymerase chain reaction
  • Testing serum for immunoglobulin G antibodies to pertussis toxin
  • Molecular characterization of organisms by next generation sequencing

U.S. health departments and public health laboratories can request assistance with isolation, identification, and molecular characterization when pertussis or diphtheria is suspected.

Why it's important

Confirming B. pertussis in the laboratory can be difficult. This difficulty contributes to under-reporting of disease. Problematic testing for B. pertussis can compromise

  • Prevention programs
  • Surveillance activities
  • Vaccine effectiveness studies
  • Outbreak management

Outbreak response

Health departments can request assistance from CDC during outbreaks. Ask to be put in touch with the Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch by either

The branch will make sure various experts, including laboratorians, are engaged based on the specific needs of each outbreak.

Priority 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.

If there's a suspected diphtheria case that requires assistance, call CDC's Emergency Operations Center at 770-488-7100.

International capacity building

CDC actively participates in international capacity building and consultation for both diphtheria and pertussis diagnostics.


CDC disease sites

Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

In addition to providing current surveillance guidelines, the manual also provides information about specimen collection and shipping.