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Laboratory Tests

Various laboratory tests may be used to help diagnose and guide treatment of fungal infections.
For detailed information, see the test article Fungal Tests

Tests for superficial infections
Many fungal skin infections are diagnosed by the doctor based on a clinical evaluation and his or her experience. In addition to general symptoms, many skin infections have characteristic signs, such as the appearance of infected nails and typical locations on the body – such as athlete’s foot between the toes. A clinical evaluation cannot, however, definitively tell the doctor which microorganism is causing a fungal infection. A few laboratory tests may be useful in detecting and confirming a fungal infection and may help guide treatment. They may include:

  • Microscopic examinations, such as potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparation and calcofluor white stain.
  • Fungal culture and susceptibility testing

Tests for deep and systemic infections
With lung and systemic fungal infections, the symptoms are frequently nonspecific and may be confused with those due to other microorganisms or to another disease process. Laboratory testing is primarily used to diagnose these serious fungal infections, to identify the microorganism responsible, and to determine its likely susceptibility to specific antimicrobial agents. Sometimes testing is also performed to detect and identify bacteria that may be causing a concurrent infection. The sample collected depends upon the suspected location(s) of the infection. It may include one or more of the following: the collection of blood, sputum, urine, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and/or the collection of a tissue biopsy. Testing may include:

  • Microscopic examination of the sample using techniques such as KOH preparation and calcofluor white stain may be used to quickly determine whether or not the infection is due to a fungus.
  • Fungal culture – This is the primary test used to diagnose a fungal infection. Many fungi are slow-growing and may require up to several weeks for recovery and identification.
  • Susceptibility testing– A follow-up test to the fungal culture that is sometimes ordered to help guide treatment. Susceptibility testing fo most fungi is not available in routine laboratories.
  • Antigen and Antibody testing – Available for a variety of specific fungi but only for deep or systemic infections. May be performed on blood or other body fluids, such as CSF.
  • Molecular tests to detect fungal DNA. These tests can confirm the presence of a fungus and are particularly useful when the fungus culture has not been successful.  Molecular tests are also increasingly used to detect fungi from sterile tissue samples and can be used even after the sample has been preserved with chemicals that prevent the organisms from growing in culture. 

Other tests that may be ordered in conjunction with fungal tests include:

  • Gram stain – a rapid test performed to microscopically detect bacteria and yeasts in a sample.
  • Bacterial culture – used to rule out bacterial infection or determine if a concurrent bacterial infection exists.
  • AFB smear and culture – may be used to rule out tuberculosis or infection due to non-tuberculous mycobacteria.
  • Blood culture – ordered when septicaemia is suspected.
Non-Laboratory Tests

In some cases, imaging scans such as x-rays may be ordered to detect fungal masses, such as in the lungs, and to evaluate the extent of tissue damage.

Last Review Date: November 27, 2018