Humoral and cell-mediated immunity (CMI) against B. pertussis was assessed in a sample of adolescent, adult and senior subjects distributed in five different geographical areas in Italy. Most (99·1%) subjects had IgG anti-pertussis toxin (PT) antibodies exceeding the minimum detection level [⩾2 ELISA units (EU)/ml]. There were no significant differences between the genders; 6·2% samples recorded titres ⩾100 EU/ml. CMI was positive [stimulation index (SI) ⩾5] against PT in 39·0% of all samples. This study suggests that B. pertussis continues to circulate in age groups that have been previously considered to be uninvolved in the circulation of this pathogen and that adolescent and adult pertussis boosters may be of value in these populations. Nevertheless, over the last 10 years, large increases in vaccination coverage rates have contributed to reduce the spread of the aetiological agent, especially in the immunized population.