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Nasopharyngeal culture

Nasopharyngeal culture is a test that examines a sample of secretions from the uppermost part of the throat, behind the nose, to detect organisms that can cause disease.

How the Test is Performed

You will be asked to cough before the test begins and then tilt your head back. A sterile cotton-tipped swab is gently passed through a nostril and into the nasopharynx. This is the part of the pharynx that covers the roof of the mouth. The swab is quickly rotated and removed. The sample is sent to a laboratory. There, it is placed in a special dish (culture). It is then watched to see if bacteria or other disease-causing organisms grow.

How to Prepare for the Test

No special preparation is needed.

How the Test will Feel

You may have slight discomfort and may gag.

Why the Test is Performed

The test identifies viruses and bacteria that cause upper respiratory tract symptoms.

  • Bordetella pertussis
  • Neisseria meningitidis
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

The culture may be used to help determine which antibiotic is appropriate to treat an infection due to bacteria.

Normal Results

The presence of organisms commonly found in the nasopharynx is normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

The presence of any disease-causing virus, bacteria, or fungus means these organisms may be causing your infection.

Sometimes organisms like Staphylococcus aureus can be present without causing disease. This test can help identify resistant strains of this organism (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA) so that patients can be isolated when necessary.


There are no risks with this test.

Alternative Names

Culture - nasopharyngeal; Swab for respiratory viruses; Swab for Staph carriage


Murray PR, Witebsky FG. The clinician and the microbiology laboratory. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 17.

Update Date 12/3/2013