Bone marrow culture is an examination of the soft, fatty tissue found inside certain bones. The bone marrow tissue produces blood cells. This test is done to look for an infection inside the bone marrow. It is often done to diagnose prolonged fever that remains unexplained after other tests.
How the Test is Performed
The doctor removes a sample of your bone marrow from the back of your pelvic bone or front of your breast bone. This is done with a small needle inserted into your bone. The procedure is called a bone marrow aspiration or a biopsy.
The tissue sample is sent to a lab. It is placed into a special container called a culture dish. The tissue sample is examined under a microscope each day to see if any bacteria, fungi, or viruses have grown.
If any bacteria, fungi, or viruses are found, other tests may be done to learn which drugs will kill the organisms. Treatment can then be adjusted based on these results.
How to Prepare for the Test
Follow any specific instructions from your health care provider on how to prepare for the test.
Tell the provider:
- If you are allergic to any medicines
- What medicines you are taking
- If you have bleeding problems
- If you are pregnant
How the Test will Feel
You will feel a sharp sting when numbing medicine is injected. The biopsy needle may also cause a brief, usually dull, pain. Since the inside of the bone cannot be numbed, this test may cause some discomfort.
If a bone marrow aspiration is also done, you may feel a brief, sharp pain as the bone marrow liquid is removed.
Soreness at the site usually lasts from a few hours up to 2 days.
Why the Test is Performed
You may have this test if you have a prolonged unexplained fever or if your provider thinks you have an infection of the bone marrow.
No growth of bacteria, viruses, or fungi in the culture is normal.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results suggest that you have an infection of the bone marrow. The infection may be from bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
There may be some bleeding at the puncture site. More serious risks, such as serious bleeding or infection, are very rare.
Culture - bone marrow
Choby BA. Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. In: Fowler GC, ed. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 220.
Vajpayee N, Graham SS, Bem S. Basic examination of blood and bone marrow. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 31.
Review Date 2/2/2023
Updated by: Mark Levin, MD, Hematologist and Oncologist, Monsey, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.