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Written by
Dr. Shreya Gupta
BDS, MDS - Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
Reviewed by
Dr. Ashish Ranjan
MBBS, MD (Pharmacology)
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Culture, Sputum

Culture, Sputum
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This test is for
Male, Female
Test Preparation
  1. No special preparation required


What is Culture, Sputum?

The culture, sputum test is advised to detect and identify the cause of bacterial pneumonia or some other lower respiratory tract infections. It also helps to monitor the efficacy of the suggested treatment. 

Why is Culture, Sputum done?

The culture, sputum test is done:

  • In case of symptoms of lower respiratory tract infections

  • To monitor the treatment for bacterial infection

  • To monitor the treatment for lower respiratory tract infection

What does Culture, Sputum Measure?

The culture, sputum test detects the presence of disease-causing pathogens in those patients who are under suspicion of having bacterial pneumonia or other lower respiratory tract infections. Sputum is thick mucus or phlegm which is expelled from the lower respiratory tract through coughing. Sputum is not saliva or spit. During the sample collection process, it is to be ensured that the sample is collected from the lower respiratory tract and not from the upper respiratory tract.  

The pathogen is identified by the culture, sputum test and accordingly, after susceptibility testing, the treatment is initiated. At times, a respiratory infection can be caused by a pathogen that cannot be grown and identified with culture, sputum test. In such a case, other tests such as culture and stain AFB or culture fungus or culture viral can be advised. 

In case of a bacterial pathogen, the first step in the routine analysis of a sputum sample is a Gram stain which helps to identify the presence of a general type of bacteria. Further, the sample is placed on the appropriate nutrient media and is then incubated. The media encourages the bacteria growth which is present in the sputum sample.

Normally, the sputum is not sterile (free from bacteria), as harmless bacteria are usually present in the mouth or throat as a part of normal flora. In case of respiratory infections, disease-causing pathogens are also present which are detected by the culture, sputum test.

Answers to Patient Concerns & Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Culture, Sputum

Frequently Asked Questions about Culture, Sputum

Q. How is sputum sample collected?
The sputum sample is collected by asking the patient to cough up. The sample which is coughed up is expelled into a sterile cup provided by the laboratory. To collect the sputum sample, deep coughing is required. The patient is informed that mucus/phlegm is to be collected from the lungs, not the saliva. In case, a patient is not able to produce a sputum sample, it can be induced by guiding the patient to inhale a sterile saline or glycerine aerosol for several minutes. Doing this will loosen phlegm in the lungs. Apart from this, inhalation of steam or a hot shower can also aid in loosening the phlegm.
Q. What preparations are required to be done by the patient before collection of the sputum sample?
The patient is asked to brush their teeth before collecting the sample. Also, the patient is asked to avoid intake of food for at least 1-2 hours before the collection of the sample.
Q. What are the signs and symptoms of respiratory diseases?
The signs and symptoms of respiratory diseases include cough, fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, difficulty in breathing, chest pain, and confusion.
Q. What do test results of culture, sputum test means?
A positive culture, sputum means that pathogenic organisms are present. Clinically, the signs and symptoms of lower respiratory tract infections are also correlated. The result is considered negative if there is no growth of pathogenic organisms for 24 or 48 hours. The reason for negative results could be the absence of sufficient quantity of pathogen in the sample. It is also possible that other tests may be required for the detection of pathogenic organisms such as Sputum or Smear AFB or Culture fungus.
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