A skin culture is a laboratory test to look for and identify disease-causing substances in a sample of skin. It is called a mucosal culture if the sample involves the mucous membranes.
Mucosal culture; Culture - skin; Culture - mucosal
How the test is performed
A sample of skin or mucous membrane is needed. For information on how this is done, see:
The sample is sent to a laboratory and placed in a special dish (called a culture medium). The laboratory team checks the dish at different time periods to see if bacteria, virus, or fungus has grown. Further tests can be done to identify the specific organism and determine the best treatment.
How to prepare for the test
There is no preparation needed for a culture. For information on how to prepare for a skin or mucosal sample, see:
How the test will feel
The laboratory test does not involve the patient, so it is painless. For information on how it may feel to give a skin or mucosal sample, see:
Why the test is performed
Your doctor may order this test if you have signs or symptoms of an acute or chronic infection of the skin or mucous membranes.
A normal result means no disease-causing organisms are seen on the skin or mucosal sample.
Some microorganisms normally live on the skin. These are not a sign of infection and are considered a normal finding.
Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What abnormal results mean
An abnormal result means bacteria, fungus, or virus is present. This may be a sign of infection.
What the risks are
A laboratory culture does not pose a risk to the patient. For information on risks related to removing a sample of skin or mucosal tissue, see:
Armstrong CA. Examination of the skin and approach to diagnosing skin diseases. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 462.
Reviewed By: 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., Inc.