How Is Whooping Cough Diagnosed?

Pertussis diagnosis is suggested by the characteristic cough. The illness often is suspected in patients who experience coughing that does not improve within 14 days. To diagnose whooping cough, the physician takes a medical history, including a history of symptoms, and performs a physical examination and laboratory tests.

Pertussis diagnosis is confirmed by performing a culture of secretions from the nose or throat. This diagnostic test can be performed using a flexible catheter attached to a syringe (called nasopharyngeal aspiration) or a cotton swab to obtain a sample (e.g., of mucus), which is then grown in a laboratory and examined for the presence of Bordetella pertussis. The results of the test usually are available within a few days.

Other tests, such as chest x-rays and blood test, may be performed to rule out other medical conditions (e.g., viral infection, bronchitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease [GERD]) and detect whooping cough complications (e.g., pneumonia).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Aug 2009

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2015