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Pertussis (whooping cough) is one of the commonest vaccine preventable diseases in the UK, despite vaccination coverage being maintained for the last 15 years at over 90% among infants and the addition of a pre-school booster to the UK national immunisation programme in 2001. However, it is known that pertussis vaccine does not confer long-term immunity to clinical infection. Evidence of pertussis infection has been reported in 37% of children presenting in UK primary care and 20% of adolescents and adults presenting in Canadian health centres with persistent cough.In children and adults with persistent cough, paroxysmal coughing is the most sensitive indicator of pertussis, but has poor specificity and limited diagnostic value. Vomiting and whooping, particularly in combination, are stronger predictors of pertussis. Cough duration is longer in children than in adults with pertussis (median cough duration 112 days versus 42 days); individuals may take even longer to recover fully and regain previous levels of exercise tolerance.A diagnosis of pertussis may be confirmed by culture, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) or serology. Single estimates of anti-pertussis toxin (PT) antibody titres in blood or oral fluid samples are highly specific. There are currently no proven efficacious treatments for pertussis-induced cough. Treatment with macrolide antibiotics reduces the duration of an individual's infectious period, but does not alter the duration of cough. Further research is needed to re-examine the epidemiology of pertussis in countries with different vaccination schedules, find efficacious treatments and develop methods of measuring cough frequency and severity in patients with pertussis-induced cough. © 2010.

Original publication




Journal article


Pulmonary Pharmacology and Therapeutics

Publication Date





304 - 307