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Sputum ['spju.təm] is mucus that is coughed up from the lower airways. In medicine, sputum samples are usually used for microbiological investigations of respiratory infections and cytological investigations of respiratory systems.

The best sputum samples contain very little saliva, as saliva contaminates the sample with oral bacteria. This event is assessed by the clinical microbiologist by examining a Gram stain of the sputum. More than 25 squamous epithelial cells at low enlargement indicates salivary contamination.

When a sputum specimen is plated out, it is best to get the portion of the sample that most looks like pus onto the swab. If there is any blood in the sputum, this should also be on the swab.

Microbiological sputum samples are usually used to look for infections by Moraxella catarrhalis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae. Other pathogens can also be found.

Purulent sputum contains pus, composed of white blood cells, cellular debris, dead tissue, serous fluid, and viscous liquid (mucus). Purulent sputum is typically yellow or green. It is seen in cases of bronchiectasis, lung abscess, an advanced stage of bronchitis, or acute upper respiratory tract infection (common cold, laryngitis).

Sputum can be:

  • ^ Sputum definition – Medical Dictionary definitions of popular medical terms easily defined on MedTerms
  • ^ Clinical Microbiology procedures handbook, American Society for Microbiology 2nd Ed. 2007 update
  • ^ Richard F.LeBlond. Diagnostics_expectoration. US: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. ISBN 0-07-140923-8. 
  • ^ Richard F.LeBlond. Diagnostics_expectoration. US: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. ISBN 0-07-140923-8. 
  • ^ Sputum colour for diagnosis of a bacterial infection in patients with acute cough
  • ^ Sputum Color is the Key to Treating Acute COPD Exacerbations

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