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Alternative namesA blood culture is a test to determine if microorganisms such as bacteria, mycobacteria, or fungus are present in the blood. A sample of blood is put in a special laboratory preparation and is incubated in a controlled environment for 1 to 7 days.
How the test is performed
In this test it is important that the blood sample does not become contaminated by organisms on the skin or equipment used in preparing the test. A strict sterile technique is followed to obtain and prepare the specimen.
A needle is inserted into the vein, and the blood is collected in an air-tight vial or a syringe. During the procedure, the band is removed to restore circulation. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.
The initial sample must be placed in the correct type of laboratory media. Most cultures are for bacteria. Other media are available for mycobacteria and fungal infections.
How to prepare for the testNo special preparation is needed. Wear a garment with loose sleeves that can be pushed up easily.
Infants and children:
The preparation you can provide for this test depends on your child's age, previous experiences, and level of trust. For general information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics:
How the test will feelThe needle prick is usually not painful.
Why the test is performedA blood culture is performed when an infection of the blood ( bacteremia or septicemia ) is suspected in the presence of fever, chills, low blood pressure, or other symptoms. The blood culture will help identify the origin of the infection. The results are used as a basis for determining appropriate antimicrobial therapy for treatment.
Normal ValuesThere is no growth of microorganisms in the culture medium.
What abnormal results meanPositive results usually mean that infectious microorganisms are evident in the bloodstream. Sometimes it is just a contaminating bacteria, not a true infection, thus a false-positive. Your health care provider should be able to help you determine if it is a true infection or a contaminant.
What the risks areThere may be some bruising at the site of the venipuncture. Bleeding can also occur.
Special considerationsBacteremia is sometimes intermittent, so a series of 3 blood cultures may be performed before a negative result is confirmed.
Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.
Update Date: 1/26/2004Daniel Levy, M.D., Ph.D., Infectious Diseases, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT