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Gram's Stain errors The Body: Rick Sowadsky M.S.P.H., C.D.S, Answers to Safe Sex Questions

Jan 9, 1997

What common errors could possibly occur when reading a Gram's Stain of male urethral swab specimen during a STD clinic visit? What are polys exactly? What're normal and abnormal results?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. It is very rare for labs to make mistakes when doing gram staining, for diagnosis of diseases like Gonorrhea. This is a very common, and relatively simple test for labs/clinics to perform. If the test is not done correctly, false readings can occur. However, this happens very rarely, and gram stains are highly accurate tests to help in the diagnosis of diseases such as Gonorrhea.

When we talk about "polys," this usually refers to polymorphonuclear leucocytes. This is a specific type of white blood cell. Counting the number of these cells in the blood can sometimes help in the diagnosis of various diseases. Normal results are generally 45-75%. Abnormal results generally are considered at 30% or below, or 80% or higher. If a person has an abnormal reading, their physician must determine the cause of the problem, often by using other lab tests, depending on what disease the physician suspects is the problem. Also, if these cells are found in various body fluids, they can sometimes be an indicator of various infections.

If you have an abnormal lab reading, or a lab result indicating an STD, it's very important to discuss this with your physician as soon as possible, and begin treatment as soon as possible, if necessary. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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