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Bone marrow culture

Bone marrow culture is an examination of the soft, fatty tissue found inside certain bones. The bone marrow tissue produces blood cells. This test is done to look for an infection inside the bone marrow.

How is the Test Performed?

The doctor removes a sample of your bone marrow from the back of your pelvic bone or front of your breast bone. This is done with a small needle inserted into your bone. The process is called a bone marrow aspiration or a biopsy.

The tissue sample is sent to a lab. It is placed into a special container called a culture dish. The tissue sample is examined under a microscope each day to see if any bacteria, fungi, or viruses have grown.

If any bacteria, fungi, or viruses are found, other tests may be done to learn which drugs will kill the organisms. Treatment can then be adjusted based on these results.

How the Test will Feel

You may feel pressure and pain as the marrow is being removed. You may be given some numbing medicine, called local anesthesia, before the procedure.

Soreness at the site usually lasts from a few hours up to 2 days.

Why is the Test Performed?

You may have this test if you have an unexplained fever or if your health care provider thinks you have an infection of the bone marrow.

Normal Results for Bone marrow culture

No growth of bacteria, viruses, or fungi in the culture is normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results suggest that you have an infection of the bone marrow. The infection may be from bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

Bone marrow culture Risks

There may be some bleeding at the puncture site. More serious risks, such as serious bleeding or infection, are very rare.


Choby B. Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. In: Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC, eds. Pfenninger & Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 205.

Hutchison RE, McPherson RA, Schexneider KI. Basic examination of blood and bone marrow. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 30.

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Review Date: 1/27/2015
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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