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A throat culture is a test to check for a bacterial or fungal infection in the throat. A sample swabbed from the throat is put in a special cup (culture) that allows infections to grow. If an infection grows, the culture is positive. The type of infection is found using a microscope, chemical tests, or both. If no infection grows, the culture is negative.
Examples of infections that may be found during a throat culture include:
If bacteria grows in the culture, other tests may be done to check which antibiotic will treat the infection best. This is called susceptibility or sensitivity testing.
Most sore throats are caused by an infection with a virus, such as a cold or flu. Throat cultures are not done for viral infections because it is very hard to grow viruses and it is expensive.
A throat culture may be done to:
You do not need to do anything before you have this test. Tell your doctor if you have recently taken any antibiotics.
You will be asked to tilt your head back and open your mouth as wide as possible. Your doctor will press your tongue down with a flat stick (tongue depressor) and then examine your mouth and throat. A clean swab will be rubbed over the back of your throat, around your tonsils, and over any red areas or sores to collect a sample.
The sample may also be collected using a throat washout. For this test, you will gargle a small amount of salt water and then spit the fluid into a clean cup. This method gives a larger sample than a throat swab and may make the culture more reliable.
If your child needs a throat culture, you may hold your child on your lap while the sample is taken. This can prevent your child from moving around too much.
You may feel like gagging when the swab touches the back of your throat. If your throat is sore, the swabbing may be slightly painful.
Generally there is no chance of problems with collecting a sample for a throat culture. Your doctor can talk to you about any specific risks of the test.
A throat culture is a test to find a bacterial or fungal infection in the throat. Throat culture test results for bacterial infections are ready in 1 to 2 days, depending on which bacteria are being tested for. Test results for a fungus may take about 7 days.
Rapid strep test results are ready in 10 to 15 minutes. This test is only for bacterial infections caused by strep bacteria.
No strep bacteria are detected. A throat culture may be recommended.
Strep bacteria are detected. This means you have strep throat. Antibiotics can be started immediately.
No infection (bacteria or fungi) grows in the culture.
A negative throat culture may mean that the cause of your infection is a virus, rather than bacteria or fungus.
Some viruses that cause throat infections include:
Bacteria grows in the culture. Some bacterial throat infections include:
Fungus grows in the culture. The most common fungal throat infection is thrush, caused by the fungus Candida albicans.
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
Other Works ConsultedAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Group A streptococcal infections. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 28th ed., pp. 616–628. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics. Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
Last Revised: June 12, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Donald R. Mintz, MD - Otolaryngology
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