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Mycobacterial culture

Culture - mycobacterial


Mycobacterial culture is a test to look for the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and similar infections.

How the Test is Performed


A sample of body fluid or tissue is needed. This sample may be taken from the lungs, liver, or bone marrow.

Most often, a sputum sample will be taken. To obtain a sample, you will be asked to cough deeply and spit out the material that comes up from your lungs.

A biopsy or aspiration may also be done.

The sample is sent to a laboratory. There it is placed in a special dish (culture). It is then watched for up to 6 weeks to see if the bacteria grow.


How to Prepare for the Test


Preparation depends on how the test is done. Follow your health care provider's instructions.


How the Test will Feel


How the test will feel depends on the specific procedure. Your health care provider can discuss this with you before the test.


Why the Test is Performed


Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of tuberculosis or a related infection.


Normal Results


If there is no disease present, there will be no growth of bacteria in the culture medium.


What Abnormal Results Mean


Mycobacterium tuberculosis or similar bacteria is present in the culture.




Risks depend on the specific biopsy or aspiration being performed.




Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Culture - routine. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2013:409-411.

Fitzgerald DW, Sterling TR, Haas DW. Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 251.

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      Review Date: 12/10/2015

      Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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