Mayo Clinic Researchers Discover Bordetella parapertussis Outbreak in Southeastern Minnesota in 2014


Pertussis, commonly known as “whooping cough,” has been on the rise in the United States and globally over the past 25 years. Stemming from an infection with the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, the disease is predominantly seen in children and causes a serious cough that can last for weeks. Vaccination for pertussis is available, however, the disease is still increasing.

Vytas Karalius

Its rare cousin, Bordetella parapertussis, can cause a similar disease with the same symptoms. According to a recent study by Mayo Clinic researchers, an outbreak of B. parapertussis occurred in 2014 in southeastern Minnesota. While the causes were different, the clinical picture of B. parapertussis was very similar to classical whooping cough. Vytas Karalius, a medical student at the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota, and author on the study, presented the research at the recent Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC).

According to Karalius, “Current literature and the findings in our study suggest that B. parapertussis can present similar to B. pertussis in patients, causing typical ‘whooping cough.’” In fact, the clinical picture of the B. parapertussis outbreak was almost the same as classical whooping cough with vomiting, coryza (inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose), sleep disturbances, sore throat, and the “whoop” present in many cases.

Robin Patel, M.D.

Mayo Clinic researchers discovered the outbreak by accident during a routine quality control of B. pertussis and B. parapertussis polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays done at Mayo Medical Laboratories, according to the study’s senior author Robin Patel, M.D., Director of the Mayo Clinic’s Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory. The laboratory test identifies both pathogens and can distinguish between them.

All children involved in the outbreak were up to date with their pertussis vaccines, which led researchers to believe that the current vaccine is not protecting children from lesser-known species.

“Current vaccines are not protective against B. parapertussis. Our finding is consistent with other research previous to ours. The pertussis vaccine and its efficacy have been under recent scrutiny; it may be beneficial to consider targeting B. parapertussis in the development of future vaccines,” Karalius said.

The study results suggest that symptoms alone should not be used to clinically make a distinction between B. pertussis and B. parapertussis. “If a patient presents to a clinic with pertussis-like symptoms, consideration should be given to testing using an assay that tests for both B. pertussis and B. parapertussis, as is the case for the assay used at Mayo Clinic in Rochester,” added Karalius.

For more information on the study, watch a video of Dr. Patel from the ICAAC meeting on MedPage Today.

For additional information on laboratory testing for Bordetella pertussis and Bordetella parapertussis, view a Hot Topic by Dr. Patel (link goes to 2018 update of that original Hot Topic) or Mayo Medical Laboratories’ Utilization Spotlight video.

Kelley Luedke (@kschrib)

Kelley Luedke

Kelley Luedke is a Marketing Channel Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She is the principle editor and writer of Insights and leads social media and direct marketing strategy. Kelley has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2013. Outside of work, you can find Kelley running, traveling, playing with her kitty, and exploring new foods.