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What is a stool culture test?

Stool culture test also referred to as stool test, identifies the presence of disease-causing bacteria, viruses and other organisms present in a stool sample. In this test, stools are collected in a container that contains nutrients for the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms. Once microbial growth occurs, the sample is observed under a microscope or a chemical test is performed to check for the growth of microorganisms.
Some tests commonly recommended with stool culture include gram stain, blood culture, Clostridium difficile and blood tests.

Additionally, tests like abdominal imaging tests like ultrasound and computed tomography (CT) scan, urine culture test, viral antigen stool test and contrast enema test are recommended along with the stool culture test to rule out conditions like inflammation of the appendix and infection of the urinary tract.

  1. Why is a stool culture test performed?
  2. How do you prepare for a stool culture test?
  3. How is a stool culture test performed?
  4. What do stool culture test results mean?

Stool culture test is performed to identify the cause of apparent symptoms in an individual. It is generally recommended in individuals who experience the following symptoms:

These symptoms are generally associated with food poisoning, which occurs due to the consumption of foods or drinks contaminated with microorganisms such as parasites, viruses, or bacteria.

A stool test is recommended in individuals who have previously travelled to an area with poor water and sanitation facilities and are now experiencing the above-stated symptoms. It is also useful in diagnosing cholera, typhoid and inflammation of the large intestine.
Microorganisms commonly seen in a stool culture test include Shigella, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Yersinia and Escherichia coli. Sometimes other bacteria may also be found.

Unlike many other laboratory tests, stool test does not need any special preparations as you will be collecting the sample yourself. Make sure to inform your doctor about the recent intake of certain medications, e.g., antibiotics, anti-diarrhoeal medicines, laxatives or enemas as they may affect test results. Also, it is important to tell the doctor about any herbal or vitamin supplementation that you may be taking.

Stool collection is a painless procedure with no associated risks. You'll have to collect your stools directly in a disposable container with a lid. It should not be collected from the toilet bowl and should be free of any external material like toilet paper.

To prevent contamination of the sample, wear latex gloves during sample collection and wash your hands properly afterwards.

The sample may be collected by a parent in the case of children. Ensure that the child does not urinate in the stool sample. For this purpose, let them empty their bladder before collecting the stool sample.

In some individuals, a rectal swab is used to collect a stool sample. This is done by inserting a swab into the rectum, rotating it gently and pulling it out. The swab is then placed in the container for stool sample collection and sent to the laboratory.

For accurate results, the sample should be tested within a few hours of collection.

Results of a stool culture are generally provided within 24 to 48 hours. Test results may vary based on the age, gender, medical history, testing method employed and other factors involved in the testing along with the evaluation of the stool sample.

Normal results: Normal results are indicated by an absence of microbial growth in the sample.

Abnormal results: Growth of bacteria or any other microorganism in stool culture indicates the presence of infection in the gastrointestinal tract.
Stool culture test may sometimes give a false negative result indicating the absence of a pathogenic organism in the sample. However, if gastrointestinal symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend some other tests to identify the underlying cause.

Disclaimer: All results must be clinically correlated with the patient’s complaints to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. The above information is provided from a purely educational point of view and is in no way a substitute for medical advice by a qualified doctor.

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  1. University of Rochester Medical Center. Stool Culture. Rochester, New York. [internet].
  2. Michigan Medicine. [internet]. University of Michigan. Stool Culture.
  3. Michigan Medicine. [internet]. University of Michigan. Stool Culture: Why It Is Done.
  4. KidsHealth. KidsHealth / for Parents / Stool Test: Bacteria Culture Stool Test: Bacteria Culture. The Nemours Foundation. [internet].
  5. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Fecal culture
  6. Michigan Medicine. [internet]. University of Michigan. Stool Culture Test: Overview.