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Biotech Histochem. 2001 May;76(3):119-25.

Application of stains in clinical microbiology.

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Public Health Program Practice Office, Division of Laboratory Systems, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia 30341-3724, USA.


Stains have been used for diagnosing infectious diseases since the late 1800s. The Gram stain remains the most commonly used stain because it detects and differentiates a wide range of pathogens. The next most commonly used diagnostic technique is acid-fast staining that is used primarily to detect Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other severe infections. Many infectious agents grow slowly on culture media or may not grow at all; stains may be the only method to detect these organisms in clinical specimens. In the hands of experienced clinical microscopists, stains provide rapid and cost-effective information for preliminary diagnosis of infectious diseases. A review of the most common staining methods used in the clinical microbiology laboratory is presented here.

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