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Acid-fast stain

Definition

The acid-fast stain is a laboratory test that determines if a sample of tissue, blood, or other body substance is infected with the bacteria that causes tuberculosis and other illnesses.

How the test is performed

Your health care provider will collect a sample of blood, urine, stool, sputum, bone marrow, or tissue, depending on the location of the suspected infection.

The sample is then sent to a laboratory, where a small amount is placed on a glass slide, stained, and heated. The cells in the sample hold onto the dye. The lab team member washes the slide with an acid solution and applies a different stain.

The bacteria that hold onto the first dye are considered "acid-fast" because they resist the acid wash. This type of bacteria is associated with tuberculosis and other infections.

How to prepare for the test

Preparation depends on how the sample is collected. Your health care provider will tell you how to prepare.

How the test will feel

The amount of discomfort depends on how the sample is collected.

Why the test is performed

The test can tell if you are infected with mycobacteria, the organism that causes tuberculosis and related infections.

Normal Values

A normal result means no acid-fast bacteria were found on the stained sample.

Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may indicate an infection with an acid-fast bacteria. Acid-fast bacteria include those that cause tuberculosis, nontuberculous infections, and nocardia infections.

What the risks are

Risks depend on how the sample is collected. Ask your health provider to explain the risks and benefits of the medical procedure.

References

Newton SM, Brent AJ, Anderson S, Whittaker E, Kampmann B. Paediatrictuberculosis. Lancet Infect Dis. 2008 Aug;8(8):498-510.


Review Date: 12/1/2009
Reviewed By: Reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital.
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