A vaginal culture, also called an endocervical culture or a female genital tract culture, is a test that samples vaginal secretions in order to check for any abnormal organisms. The test may be performed to check for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), bacterial vaginitis, yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and other illness or disorders involving the female reproductive tract.
The test is performed in a doctor’s office or hospital, and usually takes only a minute or so from start to finish. To undergo the test, the patient must lie on her back with her legs apart (generally there are small foot rests, or stirrups, to support the patient’s feet). A doctor or health care practitioner inserts an instrument called a speculum into the vagina in order to open the vaginal canal and allow the inside of the vagina to be seen, and then inserts cotton swab into the vagina and uses the swab to scrape a sample of cells and mucus from the cervix. Patients may feel slight discomfort when the speculum is used to open the vaginal canal, and again when the cervix is swabbed, but generally this discomfort is very mild and lasts only for the few seconds it takes to complete the test.
After the sample is obtained, it is transferred to a slide, a petri dish, or both, and examined under a microscope, to check for abnormalities. Sometimes special chemical agents or dyes may be used to help specific organisms stand out under magnification.
Microorganisms are always present in limited quantities in the vagina, and they help to maintain the delicate chemical balance there, aiding in the prevention of infection or irritation from outside sources, and contributing to general vaginal and reproductive health. These microorganisms can be identified easily by the trained eye, and are expected when analyzing a sample obtained from the vagina. However, if there is an overgrowth of certain naturally present organisms, or if infectious bacteria have a chance to grow in abnormal quantity in the vagina, this is a sign of infection. Some of the infectious bacteria or microorganisms that can be identified by a vaginal culture include those that cause chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes, as well as a form of the bacteria streptococcus. E. coli, which is present in feces, may also be found, as anal-vaginal contamination happens occasionally due to the proximity of the openings to each other.
If abnormal microorganisms are present, treatment with antibiotics (for bacteria) or antifungal medications (for yeast) may be required to return the vagina’s microorganisms to their normal balance. If the microorganisms are present due to long-term infection with an STD, additional treatment may be necessary to prevent or reverse damage to the reproductive tract and restore normal function and fertility.
Last updated: 06-Jun-07