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What is a blood culture?

Daniel R. Spogen, MD
Family Medicine
A blood culture is a test used to determine what bacteria or viruses (though viruses are very hard to grow) are swimming in someone's blood stream. The blood is collected and placed on a plate. The blood is placed in different growing situations because different bacteria have different requirements for growth. Over a course of five days the blood is watched to see if any bacteria grow. This is an incredibly important and useful test when it comes to fighting infections. It can tell a healthcare provider exactly what bug is causing the illness so the right antibiotics can be used.
A blood culture is a laboratory test that checks your blood for the presence of bacteria or fungi. Your doctor may order a blood culture if you are experiencing signs of infection such as fever, chills or fatigue. A blood culture is done by taking a sample of your blood (usually from a vein in your arm) and sending it to a laboratory. There, the blood is placed in a special "culture" dish and is observed to see if bacteria or other disease-causing organisms grow. In some blood cultures a special stain is used to make it easier to identify the microorganisms.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.