What is microbiology?

Picture of a male pathologist, labeling a specimen

Microbiology is the study of disease-causing microorganisms. Microbiology is responsible for identifying infectious agents in tissue, bone marrow, blood, urine, sputum, feces, cerebrospinal fluid, and other body fluids. The infectious agents can also be tested for sensitivity to certain antibiotics used to treat infections.

Microbiology uses various techniques to identify microorganisms, including the following:

  • Chemical, immunological, and genetic tests

  • Examination under a microscope

  • Staining

Microorganisms can include the following:

  • Bacteria

  • Fungi

  • Parasites

  • Viruses

Common microbiology tests

Tests Uses
Blood culture Can diagnose bacterial, fungal, or viral infections of the blood
Burn, tissue, and wound culture Can identify disease-causing organisms in various tissues
Sputum culture and/or nasal swab  Can identify bacteria that cause upper and lower respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia
Stool culture Can identify parasites and bacteria  that cause disease, such as salmonella or hookworms
Urine culture Can identify disease-causing bacteria in the kidneys and urinary tract
Throat swab and/or culture Often used to diagnose or rule out strep throat

If the culture identifies an infection, the disease-causing microbe may be tested to determine its sensitivity to antibiotic or antimicrobial medicines. This culture and sensitivity test can help the healthcare provider identify an appropriate medicine to treat an infection.

Cultures may take 24 hours to 48 hours for results. Antibiotic susceptibility studies may take another 24 hours to 48 hours.

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