Diagnostic Tests for Food poisoning


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Tests and diagnosis discussion for Food poisoning: Your doctor may be able to diagnose foodborne illness from a list of what you've recently eaten and results from the proper laboratory tests. Diagnostic tests for foodborne illness should include examination of the feces. A sample of the suspected food, if available, can also be tested for bacteria and their toxins as well as for viruses and parasites.1

The infection is usually diagnosed by specific laboratory tests that identify the causative organism.  Bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli O157 are found by culturing stool samples in the laboratory and identifying the bacteria that grow on the agar or other culture medium.  Parasites can be identified by examining stools under the microscope.  Viruses are more difficult to identify, as they are too small to see under a light microscope and are difficult to culture.  Viruses are usually identified by testing stool samples for genetic markers that indicate a specific virus is present. 

Many foodborne infections are not identified by routine laboratory procedures and require specialized, experimental, and/or expensive tests that are not generally available.  If the diagnosis is to be made, the patient has to seek medical attention, the physician must decide to order diagnostic tests, and the laboratory must use the appropriate procedures.  Because many ill persons to not seek attention, and of those that do, many are not tested, many cases of foodborne illness go undiagnosed.  For example, CDC estimates that 38 cases of salmonellosis actually occur for every case that is actually diagnosed and reported to public health authorities.2

Footnotes:
1. excerpt from Bacteria and Foodborne Illness: NIDDK
2. excerpt from Foodborne Infections General: DBMD

Last revision: May 27, 2003

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