What is a Culture and Sensitivity and why you should get one whenever you have an infection, think you have an infection, or your doctor says you have an infection? Also called a C and S, a C&S, or a bacterial culture, this is a step that is very often overlooked or intentionally not performed when someone goes to the doctor with an infection. In a perfect world, however, it would be done much more frequently. But what IS a culture and sensitivity test, and why should you care? And why are we talking about it on a site about the fluoroquinolone antibiotics.
If you are not familiar with the damaging effects of the fluoroquinolone class of drugs, please take a moment and read the Introduction to Fluoroquinolones to understand why we have an entire site dedicated to talking about this subject and why you should be knowledgeable about these drugs before you get an infection where your doctor might give you a prescription for antibiotics. Now, back to the culture and sensitivity, and at the end we’ll discuss why this subject is so important in relation to the fluoroquinolone drugs.
First, You Need to Know What an Infection is?
If you already know what an infection is, you can skip this section. An infection is when a microscopic organism gets into the body and makes us sick. When that happens, we get an immune response that tries to fight these beasties off. We live with microorganisms all the time, living in and on us. We even live with the kind of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that make us sick, but we don’t always have an infection because these pathogenic organisms are kept in balance by the activity of the organisms that don’t make us sick, and the ones that are even good for us and are necessary for good health (think of the bacteria in yogurt that we eat on purpose).
For various reasons, however, sometimes we can’t fight off the ones that make us ill effectively, they form groups called colonies, the body mounts an immune response to try to fight this off, we feel sick, and we call it an infection.
The Culture Part of the Culture and Sensitivity
When we get certain infections, the doctor can take a sample of the infection and send it off to the lab to find out what microorganism is causing the infection. Depending upon the infection, this can’t always be done. For instance, it’s very difficult to get a sample to test for a prostate infection (more on that later… it becomes quite important as we talk about the fluoroquinolone antibiotics), but it’s quite easy to get a sample of urine.
A culture can only be done on an infection where there is a sample to take. Once the sample is obtained, they will do a procedure you may have done at some point yourself in your formative years at school. They take the sample of the infection and rub it over a dish containing food for microorganisms that has been sterilized to ensure only what you put on the dish will grow. Then they leave it out a few days to see if it grows anything. It’s pretty much the same as leaving cheese out to mold, but more exacting.
Next Comes the Sensitivity
Then you wait. It will take 2-3 days to get a good growth in the dish and, once this occurs, a sample will be sent to a doctor or microbiologist who is specially trained in identifying the buggers that are growing on the dish. Next they will put a half dozen or so dots soaked in whatever treatments have been best to treat that pathogen in the past. In the case of a bacterial infection, they will put dots soaked in different antibiotics.
Then again, they wait another day and open up the agar and look to see what happened. Around each dot, the technician or doctor will be able to see whether and how much area around each dot the organism has been killed off.
If the area around the dot is small or nonexistent, they will determine that the bacteria is resistant to that antibiotic. If there is a large area around the dot where the bacteria have been killed, then the bacteria will be determined sensitive to that antibiotic, and that is usually the best antibiotic for that infection. This is how doctors determine what antibiotic is best to use for a specific infection.. that is, IF they do a culture and sensitivity test.
Note in the image above, the petri dish on the left has big empty spaces around the dots. That means that the microorganism is ‘sensitive’ to all of the substances that the dots were soaked in. Therefore, if those were antibiotics and you had an infection, any one of those antibiotics would be a good choice to take. However, in the culture and sensitivity on the right, there are no big empty spaces around several of the dots, so that antibiotic would not be a good choice to use for that infection.
This is Impractical, Expensive, and Takes a Long Time
Unfortunately, I’ve just described a 3 day process called a culture and sensitivity that is expensive, time consuming, and also is not practical or desirable for all people with an infection. Most people also simply don’t have 3 days to wait if they are sick! So, in most cases, doctors will put someone on an antibiotic based on the information that has already been gathered from millions upon the millions of these cultures and sensitivities and send you on your way without even taking a sample.
In cases where someone has taken antibiotics multiple times and they still have the infection, or they have a complex or unusual infection, like a high fever where they suspect a blood infection, they will do these tests to ensure the correct antibiotic is used. But unfortunately, in most cases, this is all too rare a procedure except for those who are very ill or have taken repeated courses of antibiotics.
The problem here is that Doctors Give Antibiotics Inappropriately 50% of the Time, and since this page is dedicated to the problems associated with the fluoroquinolone class of antibiotics, most of this inappropriate prescribing could have been avoided by doing a culture and sensitivity test and finding out if the person did, indeed, actually need the antibiotics in the first place. Interestingly, there is some anecdotal evidence (reported by people, but not studied by scientists in research studies) that those who get the fluoroquinolone drugs when they didn’t need them seem to be damaged and disabled by the use of these drugs at a much higher rate than people who were very ill and actually needed them.
Additionally, there is much evidence that for some of the reasons the fluoroquinolones are given, and given often for months at a time, these infections are not even bacterial in nature and so do not need antibiotics at all in the first place! For instance, there is evidence in the medical literature reported in peer reviewed journals that chronic prostate infections and chronic sinus infections are actually fungal infections and not bacterial infections at all! Yet most doctors never do a culture and sensitivity for prostate and sinus infections because it’s relatively difficult to get actual samples from these sites (use your imagination!) in order to test the infection directly.
So people are being given antibiotics for weeks on end, and even months at a time to treat a bacterial infection that does not even exist in the first place, then they become injured or disabled by the antibiotic they were given, while still suffering from the symptoms they were suffering from before they got the antibiotics! This is all too often a scenario we hear about that leads to long-term unnecessary suffering. One way to avoid this potential issue is to get a culture and sensitivity to find out if you have a bacterial infection at all, and if so, which antibiotic would work the best.
As we always recommend, please understand all of Drug Side Effects of any pharmaceutical drug you have to take. And if you do have to take antibiotics, be sure that you absolutely need them, preferably by getting a a culture and sensitivity.
If you absolutely do need antibiotics, get an alternative to the fluoroquinolone drugs whenever possible. But if you must take a fluoroquinolone and you end up suffering from any of the symptoms of Fluoroquinolone Toxicity, we highly recommend following the protocol in the Fluoroquinolone Toxicity Solution book. With a money-back guarantee, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by the information you’ll learn.