Visit Know Pathology Know Healthcare

What is being tested?

Urine is one of the body’s waste products. It is produced in the kidneys and collected in the bladder until a person urinates. Urine in the bladder is normally sterile (containing no organisms), however, if bacteria or yeasts are introduced into the urinary tract, they can multiply and casue a urinary tract infection (called a UTI). Bacteria are usally present around the opening of the urethra (the tube that leads from the bladder to the outside of the body). Urine collection for culture (MCS) must be performed carefully in order to avoid contaminating the sample with these bacteria.


Because urine itself can serve as a culture medium, any bacteria present, including contaminating microorganisms, will multiply rapidly if the urine sample is allowed to stand at room temperature. For this reason, urine samples should be refrigerated (at about 4°C) after collection and transported to the laboratory as soon as possible.


Uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs or cystitis) mainly occur in non-pregnant women who do not have any abnormality of the urinary tract. Acute uncomplicated cystitis (bladder infection) and pyelonephritis (kidney infection) are most commonly caused by Escherichia coli (70 to 95% of cases) and Staphylococcus saprophyticus (5 to 10% of cases).


Complicated UTIs occur inpatients with underlying abnormalities of the urinary tract. E.coli is the most common pathogen (20 to 50% of cases), but a wider range of bacteria (eg Klebsiella, Proteus, Pseudomonas species) also cause infection. Symptomatic UTIs caused by yeasts such as Candida are uncommon.


UTIs in men are uncommon; although more likely to occur with increasing age and abnormalities of the urinary tract. Prostate infection (prostatitis) should be considered in men. Measuring the PSA level on a blood test may be useful.

How is it used?

The test is used to diagnose a urinary tract infection (UTI).

When is it requested?

The test is used to diagnose a urinary tract infection (UTI).A urine sample for culture should be obtained before starting antibiotics when symptoms of UTI are present in:

  • pregnant women
  • men
  • aged-care facility residents
  • if antibiotics have been recently taken
  • if recurrent infection
  • if there are risk factors of multidrug-resistant bacteria (e.g. recent travel or hospitalisation)


A urine sample is not always required for culture in non-pregnant women with a first episode of uncomplicated UTI (cystitis). Symptoms of UTI (cystitis) include pain or burning on passing urine, increased frequency or urgency of passing urine and occasionally tenderness above the pubic area.


Treatment can usually be started based on symptoms or with a dipstick test done in the doctor's surgery. However, if not responding to treatment and symptoms persist a urine specimen should be sent to the lab for culture.
A urine sample should always be submitted if symptoms are present such as fever >38ºC, vomiting or flank pain which might indicate upper urinary tract infection (kidney infection/pyelonephritis).

It is recommended that pregnant women in the first trimester (first three months of pregnancy), even without symptoms should be screened for bacteria in their urine as there is an increased risk of developing kidney infection (pyelonephritis) in later pregnancy.


There is no need for a post-treatment urine culture to confirm resolution of infection for people without symptoms, except for pregnant women.

What does the result mean?

The test isA negative culture usually means that there is no laboratory evidence of infection. However, a culture may be repeated if symptoms persist. Prior antibiotic use might result in a specimen which shows no bacterial growth but a large numbers of pus cells present (‘sterile pyuria’). Sterile pyuria may also result if particular organisms are present which are not able to be readily cultured. A sexually transmitted infection (STI) screen on the urine is recommended in this situation to check for organisms such as Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea.


With the symptoms of a UTI, the presence of pus cells and bacteria, as indicated by a positive culture, suggests an infection and prompt antibiotic treatment is recommended to prevent complications of infection.
If pus cells are absent on urine testing, the diagnosis of UTI is unlikely and antibiotic treatment is usually not indicated.


When there are no symptoms of a UTI but there is evidence of bacteria in the urine sample, this is termed ‘asymptomatic bacteriuria’ and antibiotic treatment should be avoided. Asymptomatic bacteriuria becomes common with age. Treating with antibiotics where there are no symptoms is not beneficial, may cause side-effects and promote antibiotic resistant organisms. Treatment of asymptomatic bacteriuria is only required in pregnant women. used to diagnose a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Is there anything else I should know?

Females get UTIs more often than males and laboratory testing of urine is not always required. UTIs are uncommon in males and a specimen should be tested in the laboratory. The doctor may order further tests in males to exclude prostate infection or underlying structural abnormalities or kidney stones. Sexually transmitted infections should always be considered as they can cause symptoms that mimic UTI.

Common questions

  • The surgery called to say they need another fresh urine sample because the first sample was contaminated. What happened?

The urine sample may not have been a good 'mid-stream' specimen and have lots of epithelial (skin)cells present which suggests contamination. The culture result may not be useful as it might just represent bacteria present from outside the urinary tract.

A contaminated specimen can be avoided by carefully following the directions to obtain a mid-stream sample and not the first portion of the urine passed.


  • My doctor said I had symptoms of a urinary tract infection and prescribed antibiotics without waiting for the results of the culture. Why?

The reason is because bacteria known as E. coli cause the majority of lower urinary tract infections. This organism is usually susceptible to a variety of antibiotics. Your doctor may start you on one of these antibiotics to relieve your symptoms while waiting for results from the culture.


  • What happens if my infection goes untreated?

If your infection is not treated, sometimes it can move from the lower urinary tract to the upper urinary tract and infect the kidney itself, and possibly, enter the bloodstream, causing septicaemia. Symptoms of septicaemia include fever, chills, elevated white blood cell count, and fatigue. Your doctor will often use blood cultures to determine if you have septicaemia and will prescribe antibiotics accordingly.


  • What puts me at risk for recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI)?

There are a wide variety of factors that predispose a person to acquire a UTI. After the neonatal period, the incidence in females is higher than in males due to the anatomical differences in the female genitourinary tract. In infants and young children, congenital abnormalities are associated with UTI. In adults, sexual intercourse, diaphragm use, diabetes, pregnancy, reflux, neurologic dysfunction, renal stones, and tumours all predispose to UTI. In a hospital, nursing home, or home care setting, indwelling catheters and instrumentation of the urinary tract are major contributing factors to acquiring a UTI.

Last Updated: Thursday, 1st June 2023

Useful Links

Pathology Tests Explained (PTEx) is a not-for profit group managed by a consortium of Australasian medical and scientific organisations.

With up-to-date, evidence-based information about pathology tests it is a leading trusted sources for consumers.

Information is prepared and reviewed by practising pathologists and scientists and is entirely free of any commercial influence.

Our partners in online pathology