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Throat Culture: About Your Child's Test

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.
  • 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 can 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.

What happens during the test?

  • Your child will be asked to tilt his or her head back and open his or her mouth as wide as possible.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Rapid Strep Test is not available through Alberta Health Services. It may be available at a local pharmacy at a cost to you. Results for a rapid strep test are available in 10 to 15 minutes.

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 or nurse call line 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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