A stool culture can find out what bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi may be causing an infection.
For a stool culture, you collect a stool sample in a clean container. Then you bring it to a lab where the bacteria or other organisms are allowed to grow. To find out what type of infection you have, the person doing the test will do chemical tests and look 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. It can help explain symptoms such as severe or bloody diarrhea or an increased amount of gas. It can also help find the cause of nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, bloating, belly pain and cramping, and fever.
- Find and identify certain types of organisms that are causing infections or diseases. These include 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 worked as it should.
How To Prepare
You do not need to do anything special to prepare for this test.
Tell your doctor if you have recently taken antibiotics, traveled out of the country, drunk untreated water, 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 about 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?).
How It Is Done
Stool samples can be collected at home. Or you may need to go to your doctor's office, a medical clinic, or the hospital. If you collect the samples at home, you may be given a special container.