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Fecal culture

Definition

A fecal culture is a laboratory test to find organisms in the stool (feces) that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and disease.

Alternative Names

Stool culture; Culture - stool

How the test is performed

A stool sample is needed.

There are many ways to collect the sample. One way is to catch the stool on plastic wrap that is loosely placed over the toilet bowl and held in place by the toilet seat. Then, put the sample in a clean container. One test kit supplies a special toilet tissue that you use to collect the sample. You then put the sample in a clean container.

For infants and young children in diapers, line the diaper with plastic wrap. Try to place the plastic wrap in a way that separates the stool from urine so you can get a better sample.

Return the sample to the laboratory as soon as possible. Do not include toilet paper or urine in the specimen.

In the laboratory, a technician places a sample of the specimen in a special dish filled with a gel that encourages any bacteria or other germs that are present to grow. The culture is watched for growth. If there is growth, the germs are identified. The lab technician may also do more tests to determine the best treatment.

How to prepare for the test

You will get a collection container for the stool specimen.

How the test will feel

There is no discomfort.

Why the test is performed

The test is performed when your health care provider suspects that you may have a gastrointestinal infection. It may be performed if you have severe diarrhea that does not go away or that keeps coming back.

It may also be done if you have diarrhea and have recently taken antibiotics, to see if bacteria such as C. difficile (which can cause diarrhea after people take antibiotics) are in the intestine.

Normal Values

There are no abnormal bacteria or other germs in the sample.

Talk to your health care provider about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may mean you have an intestinal infection.

What the risks are

There are no risks.

Special considerations

Often other stool tests are done in addition to the culture, such as:

References

DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: chap 291.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: chap 142.

Giannella RA. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis and bacterial food poisoning. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 107.

Croft AC, Woods GL. Specimen collection and handling for diagnosis of infectious diseases. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 63.

Salwen MJ, Siddiqi HA, Gress FG, Bowne WB. Laboratory diagnosis of gastrointestinal and pancreatic disorders. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 22. 

Fritsche TR, Selvarangan R. Medical parasitology. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 62.


Review Date: 4/26/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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