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The Vaginal Culture Test involves growing vaginal cells in vitro, to identify an infection or other abnormalities.

What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • Cell Vaginal Culture Test
  • Explant Vaginal Culture Test

What is Vaginal Culture Test? (Background Information)

  • A Vaginal Culture Test involves growing cells that have been taken from a woman’s vagina, to identify the microorganisms present in them. It allows for controlling growth conditions and observing growth rate, patterns, and abnormalities
  • The vagina normally contains a diverse population of microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi. Generally, these exist with one another in harmony, and are in fact beneficial for maintaining the health of the vaginal tract
  • Certain factors lead to a disruption in the balance of the microorganism population within the vaginal tract. Such factors include antibiotics, immune deficiencies, and sexual activity
  • Disease may occur, if the microorganism populations are unbalanced. This may result from antibiotic use, sexual intercourse, changes in diet, and stress levels, all of which influence the microorganism populations
  • Both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria are found within the female genital tract:
    • Aerobic organisms use oxygen to produce energy. Examples of such organisms include Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Enterococcus faecalis
    • Anaerobic bacteria, which do not use oxygen to produce energy, include Lactobacillus species. They are the most common forms in the genital tract
  • When aerobic bacteria, such as E. coli, outnumber the native anaerobic bacteria, such as Lactobacilli, aerobic vaginitis (AV) may result. This is distinct from bacterial vaginosis (BV), in which anaerobic bacteria are the main causative organisms
  • AV is an inflammatory condition, because the immune system launches a response to the overgrowth of aerobic bacteria in the vagina. Inflammatory symptoms, such as redness and itching, may follow
  • Cells obtained from an individual are grown in a medium housed in a Petri dish or test tube. The medium contains the necessary nutrients, such as salts, sugars, growth factors, etc., for the cells to grow. It can be a liquid broth or a solid agar
  • The benefit of a Vaginal Culture Test is that growth conditions can be controlled and results clearly observed. The downside is that a certain degree of over-simplification is necessary that makes conditions less similar to actual conditions
  • Vaginal culturing is a type of in vitro growth. In vitro literally means “in glass”, or in a test tube. In contrast, in vivo growth means “within the living”. This form of growth compromises controllability and simplicity for more accurate results
  • Aseptic technique is essential to a proper tissue culture to ensure reliable findings. This means that germ-free conditions must be maintained through plentiful washing, heat-killing, and other sterilization techniques
  • While the cells are growing, stains and genetic tests can be used to identify bacteria or other microorganisms that may be causing an infection. These include Gram staining and genetic analysis using a technique called PCR
  • The Vaginal Culture Test involves growing vaginal cells in vitro, to identify an infection or other abnormalities

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Vaginal Culture Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing a Vaginal Culture Test:

  • Vaginal pain or irritation
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Soreness
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Trouble urinating

How is the Specimen Collected for Vaginal Culture Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Vaginal Culture Test:

Sample required: Vaginal cells

Process: Swabbing the inside of the vaginal tract with a Q-tip shaped device.

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test.

What is the Significance of the Vaginal Culture Test Result?

The Vaginal Culture Test may reveal an infection, if pathogenic microorganisms are observed to grow during the culture study. The most common infections of the vagina include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
  • Aerobic vaginitis (AV)

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • Aside from causing discomfort, aerobic vaginitis may also lead to miscarriage and preterm labor and delivery

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider of the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

The following DoveMed website links provide more information on various vaginal infections:



Please visit our Laboratory Procedures Center for more physician-approved health information:


References and Information Sources used for the Article:

American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2013, March). Biopsy. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/diagnosing-cancer/tests-and-procedures/biopsy

Mayo Clinic. (2015). Biopsy: Types of biopsy procedures used to diagnose cancer. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/biopsy/art-20043922

Nippoldt, T. B. (2015, June 17). Thyroid peroxidase antibody test: What is it? Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/thyroid-disease/expert-answers/faq-20058114