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A culture is a test of for the presence of germs, usually bacterial but on rare occasions viral, in the fluids of the body. Specimens are obtained of urine, blood, spinal fluid, vaginal fluids, or pus from abscesses among other sites. These specimens are innoculated into a special germ growth enhancing material called a culture medium. Even incredibly tiny amounts of germs will then rapidly multiply, yielding enough germ material to perform specific identification tests. Usually, cultures are processed at least overnight before results are ready. It may take several days total to not only identify the germ, but to determine what antibiotic will be most effective for killing it.

Viral cultures take much longer and are both more expensive and difficult to do than bacterial cultures. Antibiotic choice is not an issue with viral infections, only correct identification of the disease state. Thus these cultures are usually done for epidemiologic reasons or to rule out viral disease from a differential diagnosis.

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