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Open Access Research article

Evaluation of real-time PCR for diagnosis of Bordetella pertussis infection

Laina Knorr1, Julie D Fox13*, Peter AG Tilley13 and Jasmine Ahmed-Bentley2

Author Affiliations

1 Provincial Laboratory for Public Health, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

2 Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

3 Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2006, 6:62  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-6-62

Published: 23 March 2006



Nucleic acid amplification of the IS481 region by PCR is more sensitive than culture for detection and diagnosis of Bordetella pertussis but the assay has known cross-reactivity for Bordetella holmesii and its use as a routine diagnostic assay has not been widely evaluated.


The objectives of this study were: 1) to assess the diagnostic utility of real-time IS481 PCR by comparison of results with culture and direct fluorescent antigen (DFA) testing for B. pertussis, 2) to employ a PCR assay designed against a different insertion sequence (IS1001) to assess the incidence of B. holmesii in symptomatic individuals and 3) to design and evaluate a new PCR-based assay which could be used for B. pertussis confirmation. A total of 808 nasopharyngeal specimens were included in the study the majority of which were submitted in charcoal transport medium (88%) with the rest submitted in Regan-Lowe medium.


Concordant results for PCR, DFA and culture were obtained for 21 B. pertussis positive and 729 B. pertussis negative specimens. DFA was prone to false positive and negative reactions when compared with both PCR and culture. The IS481 PCR identified 28 positive results for specimens that were DFA and culture negative. A novel real-time PCR targeting the B. pertussis toxin promoter was found to be specific and useful for confirming the majority of IS481 positive specimens as B. pertussis. B. holmesii was not detected in any of the submitted samples.


The potential pick up of B. holmesii by the IS481 PCR had minimal diagnostic relevance in the Alberta population during the time period of our study. The IS481 PCR assay is now used in our laboratory routinely for front-line screening of samples for B. pertussis with associated enhancement in diagnostic sensitivity compared with DFA and culture. Retrospectively, patients' samples are batched and tested by the IS1001 MB and TPR assays for research purposes and to ensure there is no change in B. holmesii incidence in the population.