Mycobacterial culture is a test to look for the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and other infections caused by similar bacteria.
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.
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 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.
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.
Culture - mycobacterial
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Culture - routine. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 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, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 251.
Review Date 12/13/2017
Updated 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, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.