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Parasites in Stool

The alarm associated with discovering the presence of parasites does not affect only those people living in the still-developing regions of the world. In 1998, for example, health professionals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin received some disquieting news. Laboratory tests had demonstrated the presence of parasites in stool samples taken from some of the city’s residents.

A parasite with the scientific name Cryptosporidium had found its way into Milwaukee’s water supply. Although eventually removed from its source, that parasite forced many Milwaukee employees to call in sick and caused many parents to keep their children out of school for several days.

The residents of Milwaukee, people living in a relatively highly developed part of the world, suffered with the persistent and difficult-to-manage diarrhea associated with a parasitic infection. The above story illustrates why you, regardless of location or environment, should become familiar with the tests used to discover parasites in stool.

The following paragraphs will look closely at development of some of these diagnostic tests.

Detecting Parasites

One parasite that has bedeviled man for thousands of years is helminthes, a type of parasitic worm. Society continues to need diagnostic tests for parasites in stool, including test kits that can detect the presence of the parasite more commonly known as a tapeworm.

Unlike the fluke, a different type of parasite that burrows into the skin, the tapeworm can enter a human body whenever a person eats undercooked beef, pork, or fish (such as sushi if it’s not prepared correctly). As mentioned above, the ingestion of a parasite will probably cause someone to have severe bouts of diarrhea. If the patient has eaten undercooked beef, pork, or fish, his or her very loose stool will likely contain small amounts of tapeworm.

Technicians in a research and development lab can use stool samples to grow populations of tapeworm. The technicians can learn what nutrients support the growth of parasites in stool and then they prepare growth media containing those nutrients. If the research lab wants to develop a test for tapeworm, the growth media must be rich in the specific nutrients supporting tapeworm growth.

In any large population of tapeworms, a scientist is apt to find one or more organisms possessing a mutation. The scientist typically does not want to grow large amounts of mutated parasites. If the test is to detect tapeworm, the scientist will instead grow pure tapeworms i.e. tapeworms lacking any sort of mutation.

Scientists can thus check the purity of the tapeworm grown in the laboratory. The testing for parasites in stool involves the detection of protein released by the growing parasite back into its environment. A test for tapeworms will invariably detect the protein after they become lodged in the GI tract.

Treating Parasites in Stool

Once technicians in the laboratory have managed to develop a pure strain of tapeworm, and once they have produced a large quantity of that type, they can use it to produce specific antibodies. Antibodies are the proteins the body uses to fight infectious agents, including parasites. The manufacture of antibodies in the laboratory has become an essential element in the design of kits that can test for parasites in stool.

A parasite detection kit usually consists of a plastic plate with many small wells. Each well contains a fixed amount of the antibody, which is bound to a chemical that can be detected by a special machine. If tapeworm protein (known as antigen) binds to the kit’s antibody the laboratory machine signals its presence.

When a laboratory must check for parasites in stool, it receives bowel movement samples from a number of patients. The laboratory technician must put a small amount of sample from each patient into a single well of the test plate.

A careful technician would create duplicate wells e.g. two wells with material from the same sample. In this way, a technician would be able to detect any factors altering the results. Technicians must also check for false positives and negatives to help rule out incorrect results.

The availability of such advanced testing techniques has made the occurrence of parasites in stool a problem receiving more attention today than it did thousands of years ago. Only with methods for detecting parasites being readily available, because their existence is acknowledged even in the best of neighborhoods, can we work together to control if not prevent their spread.

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