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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. Instead of a regular throat culture, you may get a different type of test (called a molecular test) that looks for DNA (the genetic information inside cells). A molecular test checks for the most common type of bacteria that causes a throat infection.

Both types of tests are done by swabbing the back of your 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?

Throat culture test

    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.

Rapid strep test

One other type of test is called a rapid strep test. You’ll get the results of a rapid strep test within 10 to 15 minutes.

If you get a negative test result, it could mean you don't have a bacterial throat infection. But sometimes the results of these tests are wrong.

If your symptoms don't go away, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. They may want to send you for a throat culture or a molecular test to check for a throat infection.

The rapid strep test is not used often in Canada. It’s also not available through Alberta Health Services. You may be able to buy it at your local pharmacy.

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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