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Respiratory (Culture)

Alias: Sputum

Discipline: Clinical Microbiology

Test information: The isolation of organisms known to cause bacterial and fungal respiratory infection from a variety of clinical respiratory samples. Where applicable to determine antimicrobial susceptibility results.

Availability: Available locally Monday - Sunday during routine hours: 08:45 - 17:15.

Turnaround Time: 48 hours - 10 Days (Culture)

Related Tests:

Specimen Type(s)
  • Bronchial aspirate;
  • Bronchial washings;
  • Bronchial washings;
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage;
  • Cough Swab (Cystic Fibrosis patients only);
  • Endotracheal Aspirate;
  • Sputum;
  • Tracheal Aspirate;
Other Acceptable Specimen Type(s)
Specimen Container - Adult
  • Sterile CE-marked Charcoal swab in Transport medium;
  • Sterile CE-marked Universal Container;
Specimen Container - Paediatric
  • Sterile CE-marked Charcoal swab in Transport medium;
  • Sterile CE-marked Universal Container;
  • Culture & Sensitivity;
Part of a test profile?
Volume (min) of sample to be sent to laboratory
1 mL
Patient Preparation, Sample Handling and Transport
  • Sample before antimicrobial therapy where possible.
  • Early-morning sputum samples should be obtained because they contain pooled overnight secretions in which pathogenic bacteria are more likely to be concentrated.
  • Do not collect shortly after the patient has been drinking, eating or cleaning teeth.
  • For sputum specimens from the lower respiratory tract the material required is expectorated by deep coughing. When the cough is dry, physiotherapy, postural drainage or inhalation of an aerosol before expectoration may be helpful.
  • If aspergillosis or allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) is noted in clinical details, fungal microscopy and culture will be performed.
  • Legionella culture and fungal culture will be performed if atypical pneumonia is suspected or travel history has been indicated.
  • Please indicate in the clinical details if the patient has bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, ciliary dyskinesis, is immunocompromised or on steroids to ensure the correct testing algorithm is used.
  • Saliva and postnasal secretions are not suitable.
  • Specimens should be transported to the laboratory without delay during normal working hours.
  • If transport is delayed store at 2-8 °C.
  • The sample must arrive in the laboratory within 48 hours of being taken.
  • Specimens not processed on the day of collection are at risk of overgrowth by contaminants so interpretation of results should be made with care.
Maximum add on time
Units and Reference Ranges / Interpretation

Susceptibility Testing: Each susceptibility category is defined by breakpoints specific for each species and agent. The breakpoints are minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) and describe the amount of agent required to inhibit the growth of the organism.

The definitions of (S),(I), and (R) emphasize the close relationship between the susceptibility of the organism and the exposure of the organism at the site of infection.

Susceptible (S): High likelihood of therapeutic success with standard dosing.
Susceptible Increased Exposure (I): High likelihood of therapeutic success with increased dosing.
Resistant (R): High likelihood of therapeutic failure.

UKAS number
UKAS accredited test?

If you have any queries about a test or results interpretation please contact us.

Last updated: 01-06-2023