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Clin Microbiol Rev. 1996 Jul;9(3):382-404.

Detection of infection or infectious agents by use of cytologic and histologic stains.

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Department of Pathology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, 77555-0743, USA.


A wide variety of stains are useful for detection of different organisms or, for viruses, the cytopathologic changes they induce, in smears prepared directly from clinical specimens and in tissue sections. Other types of stains, such as hematoxylin and eosin, are used routinely to stain tissue sections and are most valuable for assessing the immunologic response of the host to the invading pathogen. In many cases, the pattern of inflammation provides important clues to diagnosis and helps to guide the selection of additional "special" stains used predominantly for diagnosis of infectious diseases. A stain may be nonspecific, allowing detection of a spectrum of organisms, as do the Papanicolaou stain and silver impregnation methods, or detection of only a limited group of organisms, as do the different acid-fast techniques. Some nonspecific stains, such as the Gram stain, are differential and provide valuable preliminary information concerning identification. Immunohistochemical stains, on the other hand, are specific for a particular organism, although in some cases cross-reactions with other organisms occur. Despite the wealth of information that can be gleaned from a stained smear or section of tissue, however, the specific etiology of an infection often cannot be determined on the basis of only the morphology of the organisms seen; culture data are essential and must be considered in the final diagnosis.

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