A Rational Approach to the Stool Ova and Parasite Examination

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BackgroundExamination of multiple stool specimens per patient to rule out parasitic infection continues to be recommended in the literature. Attractive alternatives have been proposed, such as examination of a single specimen, but data to support their use have been inconclusive.MethodsWe reviewed the results of comprehensive stool ova and parasite examinations performed during a 1-year period to determine the incremental value of examining >1 specimen. Next, we implemented rejection criteria, allowing analysis of only a single specimen in most cases, and studied the impact of the change by reviewing data from a subsequent year.ResultsPrior to implementation of rejection criteria, 91% of parasites were detected in the first specimen submitted, although many clinical evaluations (72%) involved the submission of only 1 stool specimen. When at least 3 specimens were submitted, the sensitivity of examining the first in the series was 72%. Even the latter sensitivity provides negative predictive values of ˜98%, ˜97%, ˜95%, or ˜93% when the prevalence of parasites among those tested is 5%, 10%, 15%, or 20%, respectively. Examination of additional specimens after examination of the first specimen that yielded a positive finding revealed previously undetected parasites in only 10% of cases. After the application of rejection criteria, the parasite detection rate did not change significantly.ConclusionsComprehensive examination of a single stool specimen is sufficient for most patients, when the prevalence of infection among the tested population is up to 20%. Rational use of the stool ova and parasite examination relies on communication between clinician and laboratory, and retention of deferred specimens in case examination of additional specimens is clinically warranted.

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