Transport of specimens

Transport of specimens

Information on sending specimens to the Microbiology Labs, and how to package samples. 

Sending specimens to the laboratory

All fluids - such as CSF, pleural fluid, joint fluids and pus - require culturing without delay. Specimens should preferably be taken during normal laboratory opening hours and sent immediately to our department.

The Microbiology Department (extension 2687) - not the general pathology reception - should be warned of the arrival of urgent and important, unrepeatable specimens.

If taken outside routine laboratory hours the Microbiology “biomedical scientist on-call” must be contacted via switchboard when the sample has been taken.

Do not use the pneumatic tube system for high risk specimens or any unrepeatable specimens such as CSF samples (in case of tube malfunction leading to loss or delay in sample receipt), but bring them to the pathology reception. Alert staff there that it is an urgent sample.

In general, all specimens should reach the laboratory as soon as possible after being taken. Microorganisms may be susceptible to drying, heat or cold (particularly freezing). If a significant delay is unavoidable then the samples should be placed in a refrigerator.

In specimens such as sputum and urine (in a non-boric acid container), they can multiply to significant levels. If so, the validity of the result may be compromised.

Genital pathogens such as Neisseria gonorrhoea, and anaerobic organisms are particularly sensitive to delays before culturing.

All bacterial swabs should be placed in a transport medium which prevents drying, maintains pH and excludes oxygen. All bacterial swabs should be kept at room temperature until delivery to the laboratory. If a significant delay is unavoidable (such as overnight), refrigeration is advisable.

Urine for culture should always be collected in the sterile universal container, to prevent bacterial overgrowth. A red topped universal container containing boric acid is preferable. If a plain white topped container needs to be used ( for example, if required for dip strip testing first), refrigerate until delivery.

Specimens of clotted blood (brown top “serum” tubes) are suitable for most serological tests. Refrigerate until delivery - do not freeze. Please note that due to contamination issues we are unable to perform a serology test on a blood sample that has been tested in blood sciences. Please ensure a separate sample is sent to microbiology.

Please also refer to the transport of specimens webpage.

Sample packaging

When packaging samples for transport to the Microbiology Department:

1) All samples should be sent in a yellow bag with the bag stuck to the appropriate marked place on the request form.

2) All sample bags must be sealed to avoid contamination in the event of leakage during transit.

3) Swabs and other samples from Covid19 patients must be double bagged. Do not use the pneumatic tube system to send samples to the laboratory.

We are getting increasing numbers of samples sent where the request form is folded up and placed in the bag with the sample.

This causes several problems:

  • If the sample leaks the request form is contaminated which is a health and safety issue.
  • Lab reception cannot see the test requested or the clinical details without opening the sample bag. This is particularly a problem for high risk samples and those that need to be opened in our Containment Level 3 room.
  • Some samples are sent without the bag being sealed so that the samples are falling out of the bags in the pods sent from the wards. If these un-bagged samples were to leak it could potentially contaminate the pod system resulting in a shut down for decontamination.

Please contact microbiology reception (extension 2687), if further advice is required.

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