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Alternative Names Return to topCulture - CSF; Spinal fluid culture; CSF culture
Definition Return to top
A cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) culture is a laboratory test to look for bacteria, fungi, and viruses in the clear fluid that moves in the space surrounding the spinal cord.
How the Test is Performed Return to top
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 Return to top
For information on how to prepare for the procedure to obtain the CSF sample, see spinal tap.
How the Test Will Feel Return to top
For information on how it will feel to have a sample of CSF fluid removed, see spinal tap.
Why the Test is Performed Return to top
Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of an infection that affects your brain or nervous system. The test will help identify the origin of the infection. This helps your doctor determine the best course of treatment.
Normal Results Return to top
A normal result means no bacteria, viruses, or fungi grew in the laboratory dish. This is called a negative result.
What Abnormal Results Mean Return to top
An abnormal result means a fungus, virus, or bacterium grew in the laboratory dish. This is considered a positive culture and is a sign of an infectious meningitis. This does not necessarily mean the infection is contagious, unless it is meningococcal meningitis.
Risks Return to top
A laboratory culture poses no risk to the patient. For risks associated with the procedure done to get a CSF sample, see spinal tap.Update Date: 8/10/2008 Updated 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.