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Fecal culture

Stool culture; Culture - stool; Gastroenteritis fecal culture

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

How the Test is Performed

A stool sample is needed.

There are many ways to collect the sample.

You can collect the sample:

  • On plastic wrap. Place the wrap loosely over the toilet bowl so that it is held in place by the toilet seat. Put the sample in a clean container given to you by your health care provider.
  • In a test kit that supplies a special toilet tissue. Put it in a clean container given to you by your provider.

Do not mix urine, water, or toilet tissue with the sample.

For children wearing diapers:

  • Line the diaper with plastic wrap.
  • Position the plastic wrap so that it will prevent urine and stool from mixing. This will provide 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 lab, a technician places a sample of the specimen in a special dish. The dish is then filled with a gel that boosts the growth of bacteria or other germs. 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 done if you have severe diarrhea that does not go away or that keeps coming back.

Normal Results

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

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

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may mean you have an intestinal infection.

Risks

There are no risks.

Considerations

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

References

Beavis, KG, Charnot-Katsikas, A. Specimen collection and handling for diagnosis of infectious diseases. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 64.

DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 283.

Hall GS, Woods GL. Medical bacteriology. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 58.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 140.

Siddiqi HA, Salwen MJ, Shaikh MF, Bowne WB. Laboratory diagnosis of gastrointestinal and pancreatic disorders. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 22.

    • Salmonella typhi organism

      Salmonella typhi organism - illustration

      The causative agent of typhoid fever is the bacterium Salmonella typhi. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Salmonella typhi organism

      illustration

    • Yersinia enterocolitica organism

      Yersinia enterocolitica organism - illustration

      This picture shows the organism Yersinia enterocolitica. Yersinia organisms cause a wide range of disease but are most often associated with diarrhea or gastrointestinal symptoms. Yersinia infection is appearing with increased frequency in immunocompromised individuals. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Yersinia enterocolitica organism

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    • Campylobacter jejuni organism

      Campylobacter jejuni organism - illustration

      Campylobacter jejuni infection causes cramping, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever within 2 to 5 days after a person has been exposed to the organism. Campylobacter jejuni is one of the most common bacterial causes of diarrhea. Most cases of Campylobacter jejuni come from handling or ingesting raw or undercooked poultry meat. Although poultry and other birds are not affected by the bacterium, other animals can be. Therefore it is possible for a person to acquire the infection from contact with infected stool of an ill cat or dog. This is what Campylobacter organisms look like through a microscope. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Campylobacter jejuni organism

      illustration

    • Clostridium difficile organism

      Clostridium difficile organism - illustration

      Clostridium difficile is a bacterium commonly found in the intestinal tract but which, under the right circumstances, such as after or during antibiotics therapy, can be the cause of enterocolitis. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Clostridium difficile organism

      illustration

      • Salmonella typhi organism

        Salmonella typhi organism - illustration

        The causative agent of typhoid fever is the bacterium Salmonella typhi. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

        Salmonella typhi organism

        illustration

      • Yersinia enterocolitica organism

        Yersinia enterocolitica organism - illustration

        This picture shows the organism Yersinia enterocolitica. Yersinia organisms cause a wide range of disease but are most often associated with diarrhea or gastrointestinal symptoms. Yersinia infection is appearing with increased frequency in immunocompromised individuals. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

        Yersinia enterocolitica organism

        illustration

      • Campylobacter jejuni organism

        Campylobacter jejuni organism - illustration

        Campylobacter jejuni infection causes cramping, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever within 2 to 5 days after a person has been exposed to the organism. Campylobacter jejuni is one of the most common bacterial causes of diarrhea. Most cases of Campylobacter jejuni come from handling or ingesting raw or undercooked poultry meat. Although poultry and other birds are not affected by the bacterium, other animals can be. Therefore it is possible for a person to acquire the infection from contact with infected stool of an ill cat or dog. This is what Campylobacter organisms look like through a microscope. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

        Campylobacter jejuni organism

        illustration

      • Clostridium difficile organism

        Clostridium difficile organism - illustration

        Clostridium difficile is a bacterium commonly found in the intestinal tract but which, under the right circumstances, such as after or during antibiotics therapy, can be the cause of enterocolitis. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

        Clostridium difficile organism

        illustration

      Tests for Fecal culture

       

      Review Date: 4/16/2018

      Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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