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close this bookBasic Laboratory Procedures in Clinical Bacteriology (WHO; 1991; 128 pages)
View the documentPreface
View the documentIntroduction
open this folder and view contentsQuality assurance in microbiology
close this folderPart I. Bacteriological investigations
open this folder and view contentsBlood
open this folder and view contentsCerebrospinal fluid
open this folder and view contentsUrine
open this folder and view contentsStool
close this folderLower respiratory tract infections
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe most common infections
View the documentCollection of sputum specimens
View the documentProcessing of sputum in the laboratory (for non-tuberculous infections)
View the documentCulture for Mycobacterium tuberculosis
View the documentGeneral note on safety
open this folder and view contentsUpper respiratory tract infections
open this folder and view contentsSexually transmitted diseases
open this folder and view contentsPurulent exudates, wounds, and abscesses
open this folder and view contentsAnaerobic bacteriology
open this folder and view contentsAntimicrobial susceptibility testing
open this folder and view contentsPart II. Essential media and reagents for isolation and identification of clinical pathogens
View the documentSelected further reading
View the documentSelected WHO publications of related interest
View the documentBack Cover

Collection of sputum specimens

The collection of good sputum specimens is an art in itself and has been described in other books,2 Examination of a badly collected sputum specimen can give misleading results because of contamination with the normal bacterial flora present in the mouth and throat; “sputum” consisting of saliva and food particles should not be examined.


2 See, for example: Manual of basic techniques for a health laboratory, Geneva, World Health Organization, 1980; and Technical guide for sputum examination for tuberculosis by direct microscopy. Bulletin of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, Suppl. 2, 1978.

The sputum should be collected in a sterile wide-mouthed container with a secure, tight-fitting cover and sent to the laboratory without delay. If the sputum is allowed to stand after collection, overgrowth of contaminating bacteria may take place before the examination is carried out and the results of smears and cultures will be highly misleading. For this reason, it is not generally permissible to send sputum specimens to the laboratory by mail. The only exceptions are specimens for tuberculosis examination that may have to be sent to a district or regional laboratory. The local and national postal regulations for the transmission of infected (pathological) material must be strictly applied.

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