A tandemly repeated 1,046-base-pair (bp) ClaI DNA fragment from Bordetella pertussis was cloned into Escherichia coli by using the vector pUC19. This fragment, when isolated, hybridized strongly to DNA from all 100 clinical isolates of B. pertussis tested. It was shown to have homology to single-copy sequences in Bordetella bronchiseptica but not Bordetella parapertussis and did not hybridize to lysate blots of a wide range of other bacteria, including members of the closely related genera Pasteurella, Alcaligenes, and Haemophilus. The 1,046-bp fragment was sequenced, and complementary synthetic oligonucleotides flanking a 153-bp region within the repeated element were used as primers for specific amplification of this region using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This procedure was then applied to the rapid (5-h) detection of B. pertussis in nasopharyngeal secretions collected from 332 children with suspected pertussis. The test yielded positive results in a total of 98 samples, compared with 66 for culture and 33 for direct immunofluorescence (IF). All of the IF-positive samples were PCR positive, as were 63 of the samples from which B. pertussis was eventually cultured. Two hundred thirty-one specimens which were negative by IF and culture were also negative in the PCR assay. However, 33 culture- and IF-negative specimens were positive by PCR assay. Several of these specimens were collected from close contacts of culture-proven pertussis patients, were follow-up specimens from such patients, or were from patients with serological evidence of pertussis and therefore may be true-rather than false-positives.