Health Guide

Corynebacterium diphtheriae culture

What is this test?

This test detects the presence of bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae. These bacteria may be found in the throat, nose, and skin. This test is used when a disease called diphtheria is suspected[1][2][3].

What are related tests?

  • Polymerase chain reaction analysis, Corynebacterium diphtheriae
  • Toxin detection, Corynebacterium diphtheriae

Why do I need this test?

Laboratory tests may be done for many reasons. Tests are performed for routine health screenings or if a disease or toxicity is suspected. Lab tests may be used to determine if a medical condition is improving or worsening. Lab tests may also be used to measure the success or failure of a medication or treatment plan. Lab tests may be ordered for professional or legal reasons. You may need this test if you have:

  • Diphtheria

When and how often should I have this test?

When and how often laboratory tests are done may depend on many factors. The timing of laboratory tests may rely on the results or completion of other tests, procedures, or treatments. Lab tests may be performed immediately in an emergency, or tests may be delayed as a condition is treated or monitored. A test may be suggested or become necessary when certain signs or symptoms appear.

Due to changes in the way your body naturally functions through the course of a day, lab tests may need to be performed at a certain time of day. If you have prepared for a test by changing your food or fluid intake, lab tests may be timed in accordance with those changes. Timing of tests may be based on increased and decreased levels of medications, drugs or other substances in the body.

The age or gender of the person being tested may affect when and how often a lab test is required. Chronic or progressive conditions may need ongoing monitoring through the use of lab tests. Conditions that worsen and improve may also need frequent monitoring. Certain tests may be repeated to obtain a series of results, or tests may need to be repeated to confirm or disprove results. Timing and frequency of lab tests may vary if they are performed for professional or legal reasons.

How should I get ready for the test?

Throat, mucus, nasopharyngeal, and skin cells:

Ask the healthcare worker for information about how to prepare for this test.

Wound cells:

Before a wound culture, you may be offered medication for pain. You will need to have your body in a position to allow the healthcare worker access to the wound.

How is the test done?

Cells from your throat, nose, or skin may be collected for this test. Mucus from your throat also may be collected[1][2][3].

Throat cells/mucus:

A throat culture is done to collect mucus and cells from the back of your throat. For a throat culture, you will need to open your mouth wide. The person doing the test will use a long, sterile cotton swab to swab the back of your throat, near your tonsils. The swab may be rubbed several times to obtain the sample. Do not close your mouth when the sample is being collected. After the sample has been collected, the swab will be taken out and tested.

Nasopharyngeal cells:

A nasopharyngeal swab, aspirate, or wash is done to collect cell samples from the upper part of your nose and throat. For a nasopharyngeal swab, you will be asked to tilt your head back. The person doing the test will use a special kind of swab and insert it into one of your nostrils. The swab will be rotated gently and then remain still for a few seconds before it is removed. This is to allow the swab to collect a large enough sample to be tested. This process will be repeated in the second nostril. For an aspirate or wash, the healthcare worker will use a syringe to push a small amount of sterile saline into your nose, then either apply gentle suction (for the aspirate) or use gravity to collect the resulting fluid (saline and mucous) into a cup. The sample is then sent to the lab for testing.

Skin cells:

Methods used to obtain a sample for this test vary. Ask the healthcare worker for information about how a sample is obtained for this test.

Wound cells:

A wound culture sample may be made up of cells, tissue, or fluid. Methods used to obtain a wound culture vary depending on many factors, including the location and type of wound. Before the procedure, the healthcare worker will usually clean the area with antiseptic solution, and place sterile cloth around the wound. To collect a sample from certain wounds, the healthcare worker will press or squeeze near or on the wound and use a sterile swab to gather fluid, cells, or tissue. The swab may also be inserted deeply into the wound and rotated to collect a sample. For a deep wound, a needle and syringe may be used to draw material from the base of the wound for the sample.

How will the test feel?

Throat cells/mucus:

During a throat culture, you may feel mild discomfort at the back of your throat when the sample is collected. You may feel like gagging or coughing. You may have a mild sore throat briefly after the procedure.

Nasopharyngeal cells:

During a nasopharyngeal swab, aspirate, or wash, you may feel slight discomfort when the swab or fluid enters into the nostrils. You may gag or cough during the procedure.

Skin/wound cells:

The amount of discomfort you feel will depend on many factors, including your sensitivity to pain. Communicate how you are feeling with the person doing the procedure. Inform the person doing the procedure if you feel that you cannot continue with the procedure.

What should I do after the test?

Throat cells, mucus, nasopharyngeal, and skin cells:

There are no special instructions to follow after this test.

Wound cells:

After a wound culture, follow the healthcare worker’s instructions regarding taking care of the wound. Call your healthcare worker if you have increasing pain, redness, swelling, discharge or bleeding from the wound. Inform them if you develop a fever, start vomiting, or have increasing fatigue.

What are the risks?

Ask the healthcare worker to explain the risks of this test or procedure to you before it is performed.

Throat cells/mucus: A throat culture is generally considered safe. Talk to your healthcare worker if you have questions or concerns about the risks of a throat culture.

Wound material/drainage: Ask the healthcare worker to explain the risks of this procedure to you before it is performed.

What are normal results for this test?

Laboratory test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and many other factors. If your results are different from the results suggested below, this may not mean that you have a disease. Contact your healthcare worker if you have any questions. The following is considered to be a normal result for this test:

  • Negative for Corynebacterium diphtheriae[1]

What follow up should I do after this test?

Throat cells, mucus, nasopharyngeal, and skin cells:

Ask your healthcare worker how you will be informed of the test results. You may be asked to call for results, schedule an appointment to discuss results, or notified of results by mail. Follow up care varies depending on many factors related to your test. Sometimes there is no follow up after you have been notified of test results. At other times follow up may be suggested or necessary. Some examples of follow up care include changes to medication or treatment plans, referral to a specialist, more or less frequent monitoring, and additional tests or procedures. Talk with your healthcare worker about any concerns or questions you have regarding follow up care or instructions.

Wound cells:

After a wound culture you may need to do wound care. Ask your healthcare worker for wound care instructions, including how often wound care should be done.

Where can I get more information?

Related Companies

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -


[1] World Health Organization: Blood Safety and Clinical Technology. World Health Organization. Geneva, Switzerland. 2007. Available from URL:

[2] Efstratiou A, Engler KH, Mazurova IK, et al: Current approaches to the laboratory diagnosis of diphtheria. J Infect Dis 2000; 181 Suppl 1:S138-S145.

[3] Efstratiou A & George RC: Laboratory guidelines for the diagnosis of infections caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae and C. ulcerans. World Health Organization. Commun Dis Public Health 1999; 2(4):250-257.

Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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