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Stool Culture

A stool culture is done to identify bacteria or viruses that may be causing an infection. Although more than 50 different kinds of bacteria normally live in the intestines camera.gif, large numbers of abnormal bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites can grow in the intestines and cause infections and diseases.

For a stool culture, a stool sample is collected in a clean container and placed under conditions that allow bacteria or other organisms to grow. The type of infection is identified by noting the appearance of the growth, by performing chemical tests on the stool sample, and by looking at the sample under a microscope.

Depending on what your stool is being tested for, you may only need to collect one stool sample, or you may need several stool samples over a period of days.

Why It Is Done

A stool culture is done to:

  • Find the cause of symptoms, such as severe or bloody diarrhea, an increased amount of gas, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, bloating, abdominal pain and cramping, and fever, especially if you drank untreated water from a stream or lake or have been traveling outside of the country.
  • Find and identify certain types of bacteria, viruses, or fungi that are causing infections or diseases, such as food poisoning, inflammation of the large intestine (colitis), cholera, and typhoid.
  • Identify a person who may not have any symptoms of disease but who carries bacteria that can spread infection to others. This person is called a carrier. A person who is a carrier and who handles food is likely to infect others.
  • Find out if treatment for an infection has been effective.

How To Prepare

No special preparation is required before having this test. Tell your doctor if you have recently taken antibiotics, traveled out of the country, or had a recent test with contrast material, such as a barium swallow or a barium enema.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 07, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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