Fungal Culture Test

Fungal Culture Test
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A fungal culture test helps diagnose fungal infections. Fungal infections may happen if you are exposed to fungi (more than one fungus). Fungi are plant-like life forms, such as yeasts and molds. Fungi live everywhere:

  • Outdoors in air and soil and on plants
  • Indoors on surfaces and in the air
  • On your skin and inside your body

Normally, if you are healthy, fungi will not make you sick. But there are a few hundred types of fungi that can affect your health. There are two main types of fungal infections:

Superficial fungal infections affect the outside of your body, including your skin, genital area, and nails. They are very common. Usually, these fungal infections aren’t serious, but they can cause itchy, scaly rashes, and other uncomfortable conditions. Examples of superficial fungal infections include:

  • Athlete’s foot
  • Vaginal yeast infections
  • Jock itch
  • Ringworm, which causes a circle-shaped rash on the skin that looks like a coiled worm

Systemic fungal infections affect tissue inside your body. The fungus may grow in your lungs, blood, and other organs, including your brain. Anyone can get a systemic fungal infection, but they are less common in healthy people. In healthy people, the infection begins slowly and usually doesn’t spread to other organs.

The most serious systemic fungal infections happen in people who have medical conditions that weaken the immune system or need treatment that affects the immune system. These infections tend to spread faster and affect more than one part of the body.

Examples of systemic fungal infections include:

  • Aspergillosis.
  • Histoplasmosis.
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia.
  • Sporothrix schenckii, or “rose gardener’s disease,” a fungus that lives in soil and on plants and enters the skin through small cuts and scrapes. It can affect the skin, lungs, joints, and nervous system.

Both superficial and systemic fungal infections can be diagnosed with a fungal culture test.

What is it used for?

A fungal culture test is used to find out whether you have a fungal infection. The test may help identify the type of fungus that you have. The test is also used to help guide treatment and to see if treatment is working.

Why do I need a fungal culture test?

Your health care provider may order a fungal culture test if you have symptoms of a fungal infection. The symptoms vary depending on the type of infection. Symptoms of a superficial fungal infection include:

  • Red rash
  • Itchy, scaly, or cracked skin
  • Hair loss
  • Itching and/or discharge from the vagina (symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection)
  • White patches inside the mouth (symptoms of a mouth yeast infection, called thrush)
  • Nails that are discolored (yellow, brown, or white), thick, or brittle nails

Symptoms of a more serious, systemic fungal infection include:

  • Cough, chest pain, or shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Fast heartbeat

What happens during a fungal culture test?

Fungi can infect different parts of the body. To do a fungal culture test you will need to provide a sample of cells or fluid from the part of your body where the fungi may be growing. The most common types of fungal tests are:

Skin or nail scraping

  • Used to diagnose superficial skin or nail infections
  • How it’s done:
    • Your provider will use a special tool to take a small sample of your skin or nails. In certain cases, a skin biopsy may be needed.

    Swab test

    • Used to diagnose yeast infections in your mouth or vagina. It may also be used to diagnose certain skin infections.
    • How it’s done:
      • Your provider will use a special swab to gather tissue or fluid from your mouth, vagina, or from an open skin sore.

      Blood Test

      • Used to find fungi in the blood. Blood tests are often used to diagnose more serious fungal infections.
      • How it’s done:
        • A health care professional will collect a blood sample. The sample is most often taken from a vein in your arm.

        Urine Test

        • Used to diagnose more serious infections and sometimes to help diagnose a vaginal yeast infection
        • How it’s done:
          • You will collect a sterile sample of urine in a container, as instructed by your provider.

          Sputum is a thick mucus that is coughed up from the lungs. It is different from spit or saliva.

          • Used to help diagnose fungal infections in the lungs
          • How it’s done:
            • You may be asked to cough up sputum into a special container as instructed by your provider.

            After your sample is collected, it will be sent to a lab for analysis. You may not get your results right away. That’s because the sample usually needs time to grow so that there’s enough to test. Many types of fungi grow within a day or two, and other types can take a few weeks.

            Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

            You don’t need any special preparations to test for a fungal infection.

            Are there any risks to the test?

            There is very little risk to having any of the fungal culture tests. If a sample of your skin is taken, you may have a little bleeding or soreness at the site. If you get a blood test, you may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

            What do the results mean?

            If fungi are found in your sample, it likely means you have a fungal infection. Sometimes a fungal culture can identify the specific type of fungus causing the infection. But your provider may need to order other tests to make a diagnosis.

            Sometimes more testing is needed to help find the right medicine to treat your infection. These tests are called “sensitivity” or “susceptibility” tests. They check to see if which medicine will kill the fungus or stop it from growing. If you have questions about your results, talk with your provider.

            Is there anything else I need to know about a fungal culture test?

            If you are being treated for a fungal infection, be sure to take all your medicine as prescribed, even if you feel better. Many fungal infections clear up within a few days to weeks, but some infections require months or even years of treatment.

            Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.