Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Cerebrospinal fluid culture

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

Alternative Names

Culture - CSF; Spinal fluid culture; CSF culture

How the test is performed

A sample of CSF is needed. This is usually done with a lumbar puncture. For information on how this procedure is performed, see spinal tap .

The sample is sent to the laboratory, where it is placed in a special dish (called a culture medium). The laboratory personnel watch to see if bacteria, fungi, or viruses grow in the dish. Growth means there is an infection.

How to prepare for the test

For information on how to prepare for the procedure to obtain the CSF sample, see spinal tap .

How the test will feel

For information on how it will feel to have a sample of CSF fluid removed, see spinal tap .

Why the test is performed

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

Normal Values

A normal result means no bacteria, viruses, or fungi grew in the laboratory dish. This is called a negative result.

What abnormal results mean

If bacteria are present, you may have bacterial meningitis . Other possible infections include tuberculosis and fungal infections. Some bacteria or viruses can also be detected using special tests.

Finding bacteria does not necessarily mean the infection is contagious, unless it is meningococcal meningitis.

See also:

What the risks are

A laboratory culture poses no risk to you. For risks from the procedure done to get a CSF sample, see spinal tap .

References

Griggs RC, Jozefowicz RF, Aminoff MJ. Approach to the patient with neurologic disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 403.

Swartz MN, Nath A. Meningitis: bacterial, viral, and other. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 420.

Updated: 9/2/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com