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Rectal culture

Rectal culture is a laboratory test to identify bacteria and other germs in the rectum that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and disease.

Alternative Names

Culture - rectal

How the test is performed

A cotton swab is inserted into the rectum, rotated gently, and removed. A smear of the swab is placed in culture media to encourage the growth of bacteria and other organisms. The laboratory technician watches the culture for growth.

When growth is observed, the organisms can be identified. Further tests to determine the best treatment may also be done.

See also: Sensitivity analysis

How to prepare for the test

The health care provider does the rectal examination and collects the specimen.

How the test will feel

There may be pressure as the swab is inserted into the rectum, but the test is usually not painful.

Why the test is performed

The test is performed if your health care provider suspects that you have an infection of the rectum. It may be done when gonorrhea is suspected. It may also be done as an alternative to a fecal culture if it is not possible to get a specimen of feces.

The rectal culture may also be performed in a hospital or nursing home setting to see if someone carries vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) in their intestine, which can be spread to other patients.

Normal Values

Finding bacteria and other germs that are usually found in the body is normal.

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

Abnormal results may mean you have an infection, such as bacterial or parasitic enterocolitis or gonorrhea. Sometimes a culture shows that you are a carrier, but you may not have an infection.

See also: Proctitis

What the risks are

There are no risks.

References

Stamm WE, Batteiger BE. Chlamydia trachomatis (trachoma, perinatal infections, lymphogranuloma venereum, and other genital infections). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 180.

Marrazzo JM, Handsfield HH, Sparling PF. Neisseria gonorrhoeae. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 212.

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

Updated: 4/26/2012

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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