What It Is
A routine urine culture detects the amount of germs (like bacteria) present in the urine.
Once a urine sample is collected, a technician will keep it in conditions where microorganisms can multiply. Normally, no more than a small number of germs will be present in the urine if there's no infection. If a larger number of germs are present, the technician will use a microscope or chemical tests to determine the specific types growing in the culture. The technician also may run tests to determine which medications will be most effective against the microorganism if the doctor diagnoses an infection.
Why It's Done
A urine culture is used to diagnose a urinary tract infection (UTI) and determine what kinds of germs are causing it. The doctor may order a urine culture if your child:
- complains of a painful sensation when peeing
- feels the urge to urinate frequently but doesn't produce much urine (also called urgency)
- has a fever of unknown origin or abdominal pain
- has a routine urinalysis that is abnormal, especially if it shows a high number of white blood cells
- has completed a course of treatment for a UTI, to see if the infection is gone
No preparation other than cleansing the area around the urinary opening is required for the urine culture. Tell your doctor if your child is taking antibiotics or has taken them recently.
Collecting the specimen should only take a few minutes. Your child will be asked to urinate into a sterile sample cup in the doctor's office. If your child isn't potty trained and can't urinate into a cup, a catheter (a narrow soft tube) may need to be inserted into the bladder to obtain the urine specimen.
The skin surrounding the urinary opening has to be cleaned just before the urine is collected. In this "clean-catch" method, you or your child cleans the skin around the urinary opening with a special towelette. Your child then urinates into the toilet, stops momentarily, and then urinates again into the collection container. Catching the urine in "midstream" is the goal. The container shouldn't touch your child's skin. Be sure to wash your hands and your child's hands before and after this process.
Sometimes it's preferable to collect a sample first thing in the morning after your child wakes up. If this is the case, you may be asked to help your child with the test at home. You'll take the sample to the lab, where a technician will test it for the presence of germs. Follow any storage and transportation instructions the lab gives you.
What to Expect
Because the test involves normal urination, there shouldn't be any discomfort as long as your child can provide a urine specimen. (There may be temporary discomfort if a catheter was inserted to collect the urine.) It's important to keep the area around the urinary opening clean before the test and to catch the urine sample midstream.
Getting the Results
The results of the urine culture will be available in 1-3 days. Your doctor will go over the results with you and explain what they mean.
No risks are associated with providing a sample for a urine culture. If a catheterized specimen is required, it may cause temporary discomfort. You can discuss any questions you have about this procedure with your healthcare provider.
Helping Your Child
Urinating to provide the specimen for the test is usually painless. Explaining how the test will be conducted and why it's being done can help ease any fear. Make sure your child understands that the urinary opening must be clean and the urine must be collected midstream.
If You Have Questions
If you have questions about the urine culture, speak with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: February 2012