To address these problems, the laboratory must insist on proper techniques for urine collection and on prompt delivery of specimens for culture. When delay is unavoidable, urine specimens should be refrigerated to prevent multiplication of any microorganisms they may contain. Alternatively, a novel urine transport system that inhibits the growth of bacteria in urine without refrigeration has been developed. The system consists of a sterile evacuated tube that contains boric acid. Once the urine sample is collected, it is aspirated immediately into the evacuated tube. The boric acid, which is nontoxic to bacteria, disperses throughout the urine and inhibits bacterial growth in the sample for up to 12 hours at room temperature. Upon receipt in the laboratory, the urine is examined for certain physical properties that can indicate infection, for example, color, odor, turbidity, pH, mucus, blood, or pus. Uncontaminated urine is usually clear, but sometimes may be clouded with precipitating salts. Urine containing actively multiplying bacteria is turbid. If the patient has a urinary tract infection, the urine usually also contains many white blood cells. In some instances, the mere recovery of a pathogenic bacterial species in urine (e.g., Salmonella, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, or beta-hemolytic streptococci) is significant, regardless of numbers, and the search for such organisms does not require quantitative culture technique. It is generally advisable, however, to culture urine quantitatively, and to report a "colony count"—that is, the numbers of colonies that grow in culture from a measured quantity of urine. If microorganisms are actively infecting the kidneys or bladder, they can usually be demonstrated in large numbers in urine (in excess of 100,000 organisms per milliliter of urine). The recovery of greater than 100,000 bacteria per milliliter of urine in a properly collected and transported urine specimen is referred to as significant bacteriuria because the presence of such large numbers of bacteria in urine correlates with active infection of the bladder or kidney. On the other hand, normal urine that is merely contaminated in passage down the urethra contains very few organisms (100 to 1,000 per milliliter, not more than 10,000), provided it is cultured soon after collection, before multiplication of contaminants can occur in the voided specimen awaiting culture. Some patients with symptoms of cystitis have low counts of the causative agent in their urine and close collaboration between the laboratory and the physician is needed to accurately diagnose these infections.
Collection of voided urine for culture ("clean-catch" techniques)
Aseptic urine collection requires careful cleansing of the external urogenital surfaces, using gauze sponges moistened with tap water and liquid soap.
For males, the procedure simply entails thorough sponging of the penis, discard of the first stream of urine, and collection of a "midstream" portion in a sterile container fitted with a leak-proof closure. If the outside of the container has been soiled with urine in the process, it must be wiped clean with disinfectant before being handled further.
For females, extra care is necessary. All labial surfaces must be thoroughly cleansed, and the sterile container must be held in such a way that it does not come in contact with the skin or clothing. Again, the first stream of urine is discarded, and a midstream sample is collected. When the container has been tightly closed, it is wiped clean with disinfectant.
Urine containers should never be filled to the brim. Closures should be double-checked to make certain they will not permit leakage during transport to the laboratory. If there is any delay (before or after delivery to the lab) in initiating culture, urine specimens must be refrigerated.
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