Using the Microbiology Laboratory for Diagnosing Infectious Diseases

The critical role of the microbiology laboratory in infectious disease diagnosis calls for a close, positive working relationship between the physician and the microbiologists who provide enormous value to the health care team.

A Guide to Utilization of the Microbiology Laboratory for Diagnosis of Infectious Diseases, developed by both laboratory and clinical experts, provides information on which tests are valuable and in which contexts, and on tests that add little or no value for diagnostic decisions. Sections are divided into anatomic systems, including:

  • Bloodstream infections and infections of the cardiovascular system.
  • Central nervous system infections.
  • Ocular infections.
  • Soft tissue infections of the head and neck.
  • Upper respiratory infections.
  • Lower respiratory tract infections.
  • Infections of the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Intraabdominal infections.
  • Bone and joint infections.
  • Urinary tract infections.
  • Genital infections.
  • Skin and soft tissue infections.

Sections are also divided into etiologic agent groups, including:

  • Tickborne infections.
  • Viral syndromes.
  • Blood and tissue parasite infections.

Each section contains introductory concepts, a summary of key points, and detailed tables that list suspected agents; the most reliable tests to order; the samples (and volumes) to collect in order of preference; specimen transport devices, procedures, times, and temperatures; and detailed notes on specific issues regarding the test methods, such as when tests are likely to require a specialized laboratory or have prolonged turnaround times. There is redundancy among the tables and sections, as many agents and assay choices overlap. The document is intended to serve as a reference to guide physicians in choosing tests that will aid them to diagnose infectious diseases in their patients.