“It was nice to have known…”

Is there still a place for viral culture in routine diagnostic laboratories?

The big problem with viral culture is the length of time it takes to make a diagnosis. The delay in getting the result means it often has little or no impact on patient management. It was “nice to have known” the diagnosis but that’s about it. (Other tests falling into the “nice to have known” category are those serological assays which require convalescent serology.

Other disadvantages are the time and skill needed to perform viral culture.

Shell vial culture techniques have mitigated these disadvantages to some extent.

Proponents of viral culture will argue the following advantages:

1) Still useful if you need “viable” virus for typing etc.

2) May be more sensitive than rapid antigen tests in certain situations.

3) May be useful if you are looking for many different viruses (ie catch-all situation).

Click here for a nice article arguing the merits of viral culture, and here for some slides explaining the basis of viral culture

Personally though, I believe it’s days in routine diagnostic laboratories are numbered. If you were setting up a microbiology lab from scratch I doubt many people would consider incorporating viral culture.


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