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Updated April 03, 2009


A culture is a medical tool used to test material (pus, skin cells, blood, sputum, etc.) from an individual with a suspected infection.

It is used to determine if a rash is caused by an infection, and if so, the organism that's causing the infection, and possibly what medication will kill the infection. A culture consists of the following:

  • Container: Common containers are petri dishes and test tubes.

  • Culture medium: This is the "goo" that the organisms grow in. There are more than 100 different types of culture media designed to provide the optimum environment for a particular organism to grow.

  • A sample: The tissue or bodily fluid that is suspected of being infected.

When a doctor orders a culture, she has to specify the type of organism she suspects. Sometimes this is easy, like doing a bacterial culture on an abscess or a viral culture on a genital ulcer that looks like herpes. When it's not clear what type of organism is involved, the doctor may order several types of cultures like a tissue culture and a fungal culture on an unusual-looking rash.

If the culture identifies the organism, it may be possible to expose the organism to different medications to see which ones are able to kill the organism the best. This is known as determining the sensitivity of the organism.


"Culture." Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 31st Ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2007.

"Culture." Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 28th Ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006. 469.

Also Known As: bacterial culture, fungal culture, tissue culture, viral culture
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