A stool (feces) sample can provide valuable information about problems in the stomach, intestines, rectum, or other parts of the gastrointestinal (GI) system.
In an ova and parasites (O&P) exam, a technician views a sample of stool under a microscope to look for parasites and their ova (eggs) or cysts, which are hard shells that protect some parasites at a certain stage in their lifecycle.
A doctor may request an O&P exam if your child has symptoms of a possible parasitic infection, such as diarrhea for an extended period of time, blood or mucus in the stool, abdominal pain, nausea, headaches, or fever, especially if there's been an outbreak of parasitic illness at your child's school or daycare center, your child recently drank untreated water, or if your family recently visited a developing country.
Unlike most other lab tests, a stool sample is often collected by parents at home, not by health care professionals at a hospital or clinic.
If possible, your child may be asked to avoid certain foods and treatments for 2 weeks before the test, including:
The doctor or hospital laboratory will usually provide written instructions on how to collect a stool sample. If instructions aren't provided, here are tips for collecting a stool sample from your child:
When the sample arrives at the laboratory, a technician stains some of the stool specimen with a special dye and views it under a microscope to identify parasites or ova that are present.
In general, the result of the ova and parasites test are reported within 2 days.
No risks are associated with collecting stool samples.
Collecting a stool sample is painless. Tell your child that collecting the stool won't hurt, but it has to be done carefully. A child who's old enough might be able to collect the sample alone to avoid embarrassment. Tell your child how to do this properly.
If you have questions about the ova and parasites test, speak with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011
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