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Fecal smear

Fecal smear is a laboratory test to check a stool sample for bacteria and other germs that can cause diseases in the digestive tract.

Alternative Names

Stool smear

How the Test is Performed

A stool sample is needed.

There are many ways to collect the sample.

  • You can catch the stool on plastic wrap that is loosely placed over the toilet bowl and held in place by the toilet seat. Then you put the sample in a clean container given to you by your health care provider.
  • A test kit is available that supplies a special toilet tissue that you use to collect the sample. After collecting the sample, you put it in a container given to you by your health care 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.
  • Put the sample in a container given to you by your health care provider.

Make sure you follow your health care provider's instructions for returning the sample. Return the sample to the laboratory as soon as possible. The sample should not include toilet tissue or urine.

The stool sample is sent to a lab where a small amount is placed on a slide. The slide is placed under a microscope and checked for the presence of bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses. A stain may be placed on the sample that highlights certain germs under the microscope.

How to Prepare for the Test

There is no preparation needed.

How the Test will Feel

There is no discomfort.

Why the Test is Performed

Your health care provider may order this test if you have severe diarrhea that will not go away or that keeps returning. The test result may be used to select the correct antibiotic treatment.

Normal Results

A normal result means there are no disease-causing germs present.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your health care provider about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal result means that abnormal bacteria or other organisms have been found in the stool sample, which may be due to an infection of the digestive tract.

Risks

There are no risks associated with a fecal smear.

References

DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's 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. Goldman's 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.

Updated: 5/15/2014

Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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