MICROSCOPIC EXAMINATION OF FECES
Microscopic examinations done on fecal sample are shown in Figure 846.1.
Collection of Specimen for Parasites
A random specimen of stool (at least 4 ml or 4 cm³) is collected in a clean, dry, container with a tightly fitting lid (a tin box, plastic box, glass jar, or waxed cardboard box) and transported immediately to the laboratory (this is because trophozoites of Entameba histolytica rapidly degenerate and alter in morphology). About 20-40 grams of formed stool or 5-6 tablespoons of watery stool should be collected. Stool should not be contaminated with urine, water, soil, or menstrual blood. Urine and water destroy trophozoites; soil will introduce extraneous organisms and also hinder proper examination. Parasites are best detected in warm, freshly passed stools and therefore stools should be examined as early as possible after receipt in the laboratory (preferably within 1 hour of collection). If delay in examination is anticipated, sample may be refrigerated. A fixative containing 10% formalin (for preservation of eggs, larvae, and cysts) or polyvinyl alcohol (for preservation of trophozoites and cysts, and for permanent staining) may be used if specimen is to be transported to a distant laboratory.
Patient should not be receiving oily laxatives, antidiarrheal medications, bismuth, antibiotics like tetracycline, or antacids for 7 days before stool examination. Patient should not have undergone a barium swallow examination.
In the laboratory, macroscopic examination is done for consistency (watery, loose, soft or formed) (Figure 846.2), color, odor, and presence of blood, mucus, adult worms or segments of tapeworms.
Trophozoites are most likely to be found in loose or watery stools or in stools containing blood and mucus, while cysts are likely to be found in formed stools. Trophozoites die soon after being passed and therefore such stools should be examined within 1 hour of passing. Examination of formed stools can be delayed but should be completed on the same day.
Color/Appearance of Fecal Specimens
- Brown: Normal
- Black: Bleeding in upper gastrointestinal tract (proximal to cecum), Drugs (iron salts, bismuth salts, charcoal)
- Red: Bleeeding in large intestine, undigested tomatoes or beets
- Clay-colored (gray-white): Biliary obstruction
- Silvery: Carcinoma of ampulla of Vater
- Watery: Certain strains of Escherichia coli, Rotavirus enteritis, cryptosporidiosis
- Rice water: Cholera
- Unformed with blood and mucus: Amebiasis, inflammatory bowel disease
- Unformed with blood, mucus, and pus: Bacillary dysentery
- Unformed, frothy, foul smelling, which float on water: Steatorrhea.
Preparation of Slides
After receipt in the laboratory, saline and iodine wet mounts of the sample are prepared (Figure 846.3).
A drop of normal saline is placed near one end of a glass slide and a drop of Lugol iodine solution is placed near the other end. A small amount of feces (about the size of a match-head) is mixed with a drop each of saline and iodine using a wire loop, and a cover slip is placed over each preparation separately. If the specimen contains blood or mucus, that portion should be included for examination (trophozoites are more readily found in mucus). If the stools are liquid, select the portion from the surface for examination.
Saline wet mount is used for demonstration of eggs and larvae of helminths, and trophozoites and cysts of protozoa. It can also detect red cells and white cells. Iodine stains glycogen and nuclei of the cysts. The iodine wet mount is useful for identification of protozoal cysts. Trophozoites become non-motile in iodine mounts. A liquid, diarrheal stool can be examined directly without adding saline.
Concentration of fecal specimen is useful if very small numbers of parasites are present. However, in concentrated specimens, amebic trophozoites can no longer be detected since they are destroyed. If wet mount examination is negative and there is clinical suspicion of parasitic infection, fecal concentration is indicated. It is used for detection of ova, cysts, and larvae of parasites.
Various concentration methods are available; the choice depends on the nature of parasites to be identified and the equipment/reagent available in a particular laboratory. Concentration techniques are of two main types:
- Sedimentation techniques: Ova and cysts settle at the bottom. However, excessive fecal debris may make the detection of parasites difficult. Example: Formolethyl acetate sedimentation procedure.
- Floatation techniques: Ova and cysts float on surface. However, some ova and cysts do not float at the top in this procedure. Examples: Saturated salt floatation technique and zinc sulphate concentration technique.
The most commonly used sedimentation method is formol-ethyl acetate concentration method since: (i) it can detect eggs and larvae of almost all helminths, and cysts of protozoa, (ii) it preserves their morphology well, (iii) it is rapid, and (iv) risk of infection to the laboratory worker is minimal because pathogens are killed by formalin.
In this method, fecal suspension is prepared in 10% formalin (10 ml formalin + 1 gram feces). This suspension is then passed through a gauze filter till 7 ml of filtered material is obtained. To this, ethyl acetate (3 ml) is added and the mixture is centrifuged for 1 minute. Eggs, larvae, and cysts sediment at the bottom of the centrifuge tube (Figure 846.4). Above this deposit, there are layers of formalin, fecal debris, and ether. Fecal debris is loosened with an applicator stick and the supernatant is poured off. One drop of sediment is placed on one end of a glass slide and one drop is placed at the other end. One of the drops is stained with iodine, cover slips are placed, and the preparation is examined under the microscope.
Classification of Intestinal Parasites of Humans
Intestinal parasites of humans are classified into two main kingdoms: protozoa and metazoa (helminths) (Figure 846.5).