Clinical Virology Laboratory -
Collection and Transportation of Specimens for Virus Culture

Laboratory diagnosis of viral infections requires an understanding of the pathogenesis of the suspected agent, stage of infection, as well as age and immunocompetence of the infected individual. It is important to select the appropriate specimens, collect the specimen carefully to optimize recovery of the infectious agent, and transport the specimens as directed so as to maintain viability and minimize overgrowth with contaminating organisms.

Selection of Specimens

The specimen should be collected from the target organ most closely associated with clinical symptoms to identify the etiologic agent responsible for the patient's disease.


  1. Reagents

    Viral transport medium (VTM) prevents specimen drying, maintains viral viability and retards the growth of microbial contaminants. VTM contains gelatin and antimicrobial agents in a buffered salt solution. The UPMC clinical virology lab requires specimens for virus culture be collected in the VTM M4. Tubes containing 2-3 mL VTM are used for swab specimens, while those with 5-7 mL VTM are suitable for tissue samples.

  2. Supplies

    • Sterile, leakproof, screw-cap containers including urine cups, disposable centrifuge tubes (15 and 50 mL), and smaller tubes (e.g., 4-mL Nunc vials, 13x100 tubes), suitable for holding 1-2 mL of VTM.
    • Sterile cotton-, Dacron-, or rayon-tipped swabs with plastic or aluminum shafts small-tip flexible (fine-shafted aluminum) swabs are used for certain samples such as urethral swabs. Do not use calcium alginate swabs or wooden-shafted swabs.
    • Tuberculin syringe with 26- or 27-gauge needle for aspirating vesicular fluid
    • Blood collection tubes containing anticoagulant (ACD)

  3. Equipment

    Refrigerator (2-8oC)