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Indian J Med Microbiol. 2009 Apr-Jun;27(2):100-6. doi: 10.4103/0255-0857.49423.

Histopathology for the diagnosis of infectious diseases.

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Department of Microbiology, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India.


Histopathological examination of tissue biopsies for the identification of infectious organisms is a very important diagnostic tool. Conventional culture confirmation of tissue biopsies often fail to identify any pathogen as, first of all, invariably most of the tissue samples that are collected and sent for culture isolation are inappropriately collected in formalin, which prevents pathogen growth in culture media. Inadequate processing like grinding, etc. further hinders isolation. Presence of inhibitors like dead tissue debris, fibers, etc. also delays isolation. Microbiologists often lack expertise in identifying infectious pathogens directly from tissue biopsies by microscopic visualization. This review therefore acquaints microbiologists with the various methods available for detecting infectious agents by using histological stains. On histopathological examination of the tissue biopsy once, it is determined that a disease is likely to be due to an infection and has characterized the inflammatory response and hence associated microorganisms should be thoroughly looked for. Although some microorganisms or their cytopathic effects may be clearly visible on routine haematoxylin- and eosin-stained sections, additional histochemical stains are often needed for their complete characterization. Highly specific molecular techniques, such as immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization and nucleic acid amplification, may be needed in certain instances to establish the diagnosis of infection. Through appropriate morphologic diagnoses and interlaboratory communication and collaboration, direct microscopic visualization of tissue samples can thus be very helpful in reaching a correct and rapid diagnosis.

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