Throat Culture: About Your Child's Test

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Location of tonsils and throat

What is it?

A throat culture is a test to find a bacterial or fungal infection in the throat.

Why is this test done?

A throat culture may be done to:

  • Find the cause of a sore throat. Most sore throat infections are caused by a virus. A throat culture shows the difference between a bacterial infection and a viral infection. This can help guide treatment.
  • Check a person who may not have any symptoms of infection but who carries bacteria that can spread to others. This person is called a carrier.

How do you prepare for the test?

Your child doesn't need to do anything before having this test. Tell your doctor if your child has recently taken antibiotics.

How is the test done?

  • You may hold your child on your lap while the sample is taken. This can prevent your child from moving around too much.
  • Your child will be asked to tilt their head back and open their mouth as wide as they can.
  • The doctor will press your child's tongue down with a flat stick (tongue depressor). Then the doctor will examine the mouth and throat.
  • A clean cotton swab will be used to collect a sample. It will be rubbed over the back of your child's throat, around the tonsils, and over any red areas or sores.

How long does the test take?

The test will take less than a minute.

What happens after the test?

  • Results for a rapid strep test are available in 10 to 15 minutes. This test is only for bacterial infections caused by strep bacteria. This is the most common type of throat culture.
  • Other throat culture test results for bacterial infections are ready in 1 to 2 days, depending on which bacteria are being tested for. Test results for a fungus may take about 7 days.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your child's test results.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.