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Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) culture

Culture - CSF; Spinal fluid culture; CSF culture

A cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) culture is a laboratory test to look for bacteria, fungi, and viruses in the fluid that moves in the space around the spinal cord. CSF protects the brain and spinal cord from injury.

How the Test is Performed

A sample of CSF is needed. This sample is usually done with a lumbar puncture, or a spinal tap.

The sample is sent to the laboratory. There, it is placed in a special dish called a culture medium. Laboratory staff then observe if bacteria, fungi, or viruses grow in the dish. Growth means there is an infection.

How to Prepare for the Test

Follow instructions on how to prepare for a spinal tap.

Why the Test is Performed

Your health care provider may order this test if you have signs of an infection that affects the brain or nervous system. The test helps identify what is causing the infection. This will help your provider decide on the best treatment.

Normal Results

A normal result means no bacteria, viruses, or fungi grew in the laboratory dish. This is called a negative result. However, a normal result doesn't mean that an infection is present. The spinal tap and CSF smear may need to be done again.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Bacteria or other germs found in the sample may be a sign of meningitis. This is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The infection can be caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses.

Risks

A laboratory culture poses no risk to you. Your provider will tell you about the risks of a spinal tap.

References

Karcher DS, McPherson RA. Cerebrospinal, synovial, serous body fluids, and alternative specimens. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23d ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2017:chap 29.

O'Connell TX. Cerebrospinal fluid evaluation. In: O'Connell TX, ed. Instant Work-Ups: A Clinical Guide to Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 9.

    • Pneumococci organism

      Pneumococci organism - illustration

      This picture shows the organism Pneumococci. These bacteria are usually paired (diplococci) or appear in chains. Pneumococci are typically associated with pneumonia, but may cause infection in other organs such as the brain (pneumococcal meningitis) and blood stream (pneumococcal septicemia). (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

      Pneumococci organism

      illustration

    • CSF smear

      CSF smear - illustration

      Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is a clear fluid that circulates in the space surrounding the spinal cord and brain. CSF protects the brain and spinal cord from injury by acting like a liquid cushion. CSF is usually obtained through a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). During the procedure, a needle is inserted usually between the 3rd and 4th lumbar vertebrae and the CSF fluid is collected for testing.

      CSF smear

      illustration

      • Pneumococci organism

        Pneumococci organism - illustration

        This picture shows the organism Pneumococci. These bacteria are usually paired (diplococci) or appear in chains. Pneumococci are typically associated with pneumonia, but may cause infection in other organs such as the brain (pneumococcal meningitis) and blood stream (pneumococcal septicemia). (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

        Pneumococci organism

        illustration

      • CSF smear

        CSF smear - illustration

        Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is a clear fluid that circulates in the space surrounding the spinal cord and brain. CSF protects the brain and spinal cord from injury by acting like a liquid cushion. CSF is usually obtained through a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). During the procedure, a needle is inserted usually between the 3rd and 4th lumbar vertebrae and the CSF fluid is collected for testing.

        CSF smear

        illustration

      Tests for Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) culture

       

      Review Date: 9/22/2018

      Reviewed 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.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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