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Recommendations for Collection of Laboratory Specimens Associated with Outbreaks of Gastroenteritis

MMWR 39(RR-14);1-13

Publication date: 10/26/1990

Table of Contents




General guidelines
Methods for collection and storage
Transportation (specimen handling)
General guidelines
Methods for collection and storage


General guidelines
General guidelines
General guidelines




General Instructions For Collection Of Stool Specimens
Information Relevant To Outbreaks Of Viral Gastroenteritis
Information Relevant To Outbreaks Of Bacterial Gastroenteritis
Information Relevant To Outbreaks Of Parasitic Gastroenteritis


This report was prepared by:
Judy F. Lew, MD
Charles W. LeBaron, MD
Roger I. Glass, MD
Tom Torok, MD
Patricia M. Griffin, MD
Joy G. Wells, MS
Dennis D. Juranek, DVM
Suzanne P. Wahlquist, MS


Recent discoveries have implicated a number of "new" (i.e., previously unrecognized) infectious agents as important causes of outbreaks of gastroenteritis. Unfortunately, the ability to detect these agents in an outbreak can be limited by two factors:
  1. the lack of appropriate assays--many of which are still in developmental stages and are not readily available to clinical laboratories, and 2) inadequately or improperly collected specimens.
At CDC, many newly developed assays are being used for research and for outbreak investigations. The information in this report is especially intended for public health agencies that collaborate with CDC in investigating outbreaks of gastroenteritis. The report provides an update on guidelines and recommendations for the proper collection of specimens to be sent to CDC, gives general background information concerning some recently discovered pathogens, lists some of the tests available at CDC, and provides a list of CDC contacts.(*) The guidelines and the general information provided on causes of outbreaks of gastroenteritis can be also used by public health workers for investigations when specific testing is available and appropriate.

(*)Testing at CDC is for research purposes and/or outbreak evaluations in collaboration with state and local health departments. Specimens should not be sent to CDC without prior discussion a) first, with the appropriate state health department and b) second, with the appropriate CDC laboratory. If an outbreak of gastroenteritis occurs and CDC's assistance is needed, early contact with appropriate persons at CDC for information about specimen collection is strongly encouraged.


New diagnostic laboratory techniques as well as modifications of standard ones have been used by investigators to identify viral, bacterial, and parasitic agents of outbreaks of gastroenteritis. Recently discovered causative agents associated with such outbreaks include the Norwalk-like agents, astrovirus, calicivirus, enteric adenovirus, enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, Cryptosporidium, and Isospora belli. Use of direct electron microscopy (EM), coupled with immunologic techniques (e.g., immune EM and enzyme immunoassays (EIAs)) and serologic studies, has enhanced understanding of viruses as a major cause of gastroenteritis. Bacteria and parasites continue to be recognized as important causes of diarrhea worldwide. Use of EIAs, tissue culture, molecular probes, and the polymerase chain reaction has improved the diagnosis of diarrhea caused by bacteria, and special concentrating and staining techniques have improved the process of detecting parasites such as Cryptosporidium and I. belli.

To ensure that these diagnostic advances can be used most effectively, earlier recommendations for collecting stool specimens must be updated. Because appropriate specimen-collection methods for viral, bacterial, and parasitic agents differ, the sections below are divided into guidelines by category of agent.



See (Table 1)

General guidelines

Timing -
Begin collecting stool specimens immediately after being notified of an outbreak, since delay may impede identification of the causative agent. To permit diagnosis of certain viral agents, specimens must be collected during the first 48 hours of illness.

Quantity -
Collect diarrheal stool samples from at least 10 ill persons (assuming that at least that number are involved in the outbreak). For outbreaks thought to be of viral origin, collect large-volume stool specimens (at least a urine cupful).

Methods for collection and storage

Viruses -
Place each diarrheal stool specimen, of as large a quantity as can be obtained (preferably, at least 10 cc), in a leak-proof, clean, dry container, and refrigerate at 4 C. Instructing patients to catch stool specimens in plastic kitchen wrap draped across the back half of the toilet under the toilet seat may facilitate collection of stool specimens. Do not freeze specimens if EM examination is anticipated.

Bacteria -
Collect at least two rectal swabs or swabs of fresh stools from each patient and place swabs in refrigerated (i.e., chilled 1-2 hours before use) Cary-Blair transport medium. When obtaining swabs from a patient, first moisten each rectal swab in the holding medium, insert the moistened swab into the rectum 1 to 1-1/2 inches, rotate the swab gently, and then return the swab to the same tube of holding medium. Try to ensure that visible fecal material is present on each swab. After obtaining the two fecal swabs, insert both into the same tube of medium and push them to the bottom of the tube. Break off and discard the excess top portion of the swab sticks.

Refrigerate or freeze tubes after specimens are placed in them. If specimens will be examined within 48 hours after collection, they can be refrigerated; however, if specimens must be held longer than 48 hours, freeze them as soon as possible after they are collected. Although storage in an ultra-low freezer (-70 C) is preferable, storage in a home-type freezer (if it is properly set at -20 C) is acceptable for short periods.

Parasites -
Mix fresh bulk-stool specimens thoroughly with each of two preservatives, 10% formalin and polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) fixative,(*) at a ratio of 1 part stool to 3 parts preservative. If there is a delay in obtaining the preservatives, refrigerate untreated stool specimens at 4 C (do not freeze) for up to 48 hours. Once preserved, the specimens can be stored and transported at room temperature or refrigerated. Do not freeze.

(*)Preservatives are available in commercial kits.

Transportation (specimen handling)

Refrigerated specimens -
Enclose each specimen in a secure container (e.g., urine cup, Cary-Blair medium tube), to which has been affixed a waterproof label. Place this container in a waterproof bag with tissue, towels, or other blotting material to absorb any leakage. Batch specimen containers, pack with ice or frozen refrigerant packs in an insulated box, and send by overnight mail scheduled to be delivered during business hours on a weekday, if possible. Submit a list of specimens and a CDC Identification Form 50.34 for each specimen.

Frozen specimens (for bacterial testing only)-
So that they remain frozen, ship frozen specimens on dry ice. Use enough dry ice to keep the specimen frozen until it is received at the laboratory that will process it (i.e., enough dry ice to fill one-third to one-half of the shipping container). Do not allow glass tubes to be in direct contact with dry ice; place a layer of paper or other material between the tubes and the dry ice. To prevent excess exposure of specimens to carbon dioxide, tighten the screw caps on the Cary-Blair tubes and seal them with electrical tape, or seal the specimens in a plastic bag within the container of dry ice.


General guidelines

Timing of collection of specimens -
Submit two serum specimens (an acute-phase specimen and a convalescent-phase specimen) for each patient thought to have illness caused by viruses or bacteria. Obtain the acute-phase serum specimen as close to the time of onset of illness as possible (at most, within a week after onset of illness) and the convalescent-phase serum specimen 3-4weeks after the onset of illness. If a viral agent is suspected, for optimal test results, specimens should be collected within 6 weeks after onset of illness.

Source(s) of specimens -
If possible, obtain paired serum specimens from the same 10 patients from whom stool samples were obtained. Ten paired serum specimens obtained from well persons can serve as control specimens in certain studies.

Methods for collection and storage

Collect blood specimens from adults (15 ml) and from children (3 ml) in tubes that do not contain anticoagulants (usually red-top tubes). Centrifuge the blood and send only the serum for analysis. If no centrifuge is available, store the blood specimens in a refrigerator until a clot has formed; then remove the serum and pipette it into an empty sterile tube (using a Pasteur pipette). Refrigerate the tubes of spun serum until they are shipped. Refrigerate, but do not freeze, tubes containing unspun serum.


Ship serum specimens either refrigerated or frozen. If the clotting technique described above is used to obtain the serum, ship the specimens refrigerated so that they can be centrifuged before they are frozen. Specimens can be refrigerated by placing them in an insulated box with ice or frozen refrigerant packs. Frozen specimens can be kept frozen by shipping them on dry ice. Batch the specimens and send by overnight mail, scheduled to arrive at the laboratory during business hours on a weekday, if possible.

Certain specimens of food, water, or ice can be submitted for testing if they are epidemiologically implicated as the vehicle of the disease. However, because of the technical difficulties and the low yield associated with such studies, only send such specimens to CDC after staff in the appropriate laboratory have agreed. Refrigerate specimens for viral and parasitic diagnostic testing at 4 C, and freeze specimens for bacterial diagnostics at -70 C.



In the 1970s, specific viruses were first identified as infectious agents of diarrhea when transmission EM was used to detect viruses directly in fecal specimens. Agents such as group A rotavirus and Norwalk virus are now well-known causes of gastroenteritis See (Table 2). However, little is known about many other viral agents, including the group B and C rotaviruses, Norwalk-like agents (i.e., small, round, structured viruses), astroviruses, caliciviruses, enteric adenoviruses, pestiviruses, enteric coronaviruses, and picobirnaviruses. Group B rotavirus has been associated with large outbreaks of diarrhea among adults in China, but little is known about its effect in other parts of the world. Group C rotavirus has been reported worldwide in association with sporadic diarrhea and with outbreaks of diarrheal illness in the United Kingdom and Japan. The Norwalk-like family of viruses has been associated with disease both among adults and school-age children. Astroviruses and caliciviruses have also been implicated in outbreaks of diarrhea affecting both children and adults, particularly in such closed community settings as hospitals, orphanages, and nursing homes. Enteric adenoviruses can cause infections among immunocompromised patients, and studies suggest that these agents may be the second most common viral cause (after rotavirus) of diarrheal illness that results in the hospitalization of children.

These viruses are most likely spread by fecal-oral transmission. However, shellfish (e.g., oysters, clams, and cockles) have been documented as vehicles for outbreaks of gastroenteritis caused by Norwalk-like agents, astrovirus, and calicivirus. Most patients shed these viruses in the greatest amounts during the acute phase of illness and up to 48-72 hours post-recovery. Patients have been reported to shed enteric adenoviruses for a longer period after recovery, and immunocompromised hosts have been noted to shed viruses for months. Airborne transmission has been suggested for some members of the Norwalk family of viruses and for rotavirus. Direct zoonotic transmission has not been reported.

Outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis are characterized by a short incubation period: 24-48 hours when the agent is one of the Norwalk family of agents or a rotavirus and 24-96 hours when the agent is an astrovirus or a calicivirus. Enteric infection with adenovirus can involve a longer incubation period--i.e., 7-8 days. Non-bloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and fever are common symptoms of viral gastroenteritis. Vomiting can be pronounced and can occur with or without diarrhea. Symptoms generally last for 2-5 days, although the duration of diarrhea associated with enteric adenoviruses is usually longer (7-10 days). The epidemiology of these agents has not yet been well-defined. The development and application of new immunoassays should provide new information about these agents and promote the development of effective prevention and treatment regimens.


Many different bacteria cause outbreaks of diarrhea See (Table 3). Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens are common pathogens that cause illness when their toxin is ingested. Other common pathogens include Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Shigella. Although E. coli has long been known to cause diarrhea, the recent identification of new strains suggests that this pathogen may be a more important cause of diarrheal illness than was previously recognized. Diarrheagenic E. coli organisms are currently categorized into four groups: enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), enteroinvasive E. coli (EIEC), and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). ETEC and EPEC are important causes of diarrhea for infants and children in developing countries. Neither group of E. coli is often associated with outbreaks of diarrhea in the United States, although EPEC was responsible for nursery-based epidemics of diarrhea that resulted in high mortality in this country in the 1940s. ETEC remains an important cause of travelers' diarrhea. EIEC has also been identified in the United States only rarely. In contrast, EHEC (of which E. coli 0157:H7 is the prototype) is frequently reported in this country. E. coli 0157:H7 was first recognized as a cause of human illness during an outbreak of hemorrhagic colitis in 1982, and it is now known to be the major cause of hemolytic uremic syndrome in the United States. Cattle appear to be a common reservoir for this organism, and outbreaks have been traced to ground beef and raw milk.

The typical clinical manifestations of diarrheagenic E. coli are profuse, watery, cholera-like diarrhea (ETEC), dysentery-like symptoms (EIEC), and grossly bloody diarrhea (EHEC). Infection with EPEC is characterized by prolonged, relapsing episodes of watery diarrhea, although its clinical features, like those of the other diarrheagenic E. coli, can vary greatly. E.

coli-related illness typically lasts longer than most diarrhea caused by viruses, and 5-7 days of illness is not unusual. Identification of these E. coli organisms can require specialized laboratory techniques such as serotyping and specific toxin-detection tests that may not be routinely available in hospital laboratories.


Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia lamblia, Balantidium coli, Cryptosporidium, and Isospora belli are parasitic diarrheal pathogens with a worldwide distribution. All five pathogens are known to cause outbreaks of diarrhea in the United States See (Table 4). With the use of new concentrating and staining techniques, investigators have recently shown Cryptosporidium and I. belli to be important pathogens in the United States. Cryptosporidium has been found in specimens from 3% to 13% of persons with diarrhea who have recently arrived from developing countries. Because Cryptosporiduim has been associated with outbreaks of diarrhea in child day-care centers, it may be an important pathogen in this setting. Cryptosporidium, like I. belli, is a common source of infection for male homosexuals. I. belli appears to be a less common cause of diarrhea, although it can cause severe diarrhea for immunocompromised patients. I. belli has also been associated with outbreaks of diarrhea in some developing countries and in nursing homes in developed countries.

Fecal-oral spread through contaminated food and water has led to outbreaks of diarrhea caused by Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica, and Cryptosporidium. Person-to-person transmission has been documented for Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica, I. belli, and Cryptosporidium. Cryptosporidium is a zoonotic agent, and many different animals are known to excrete Cryptosporidium cysts that can potentially infect humans.

I. belli is not a zoonotic agent; it is the only Isospora species that is presently known to infect humans. In general, the incubation period, duration of illness, and period of pathogen excretion are usually longer in association with diarrheal infections caused by parasites than with diarrhea caused by viruses or bacteria. For most patients, the incubation period for Cryptosporidium-related illness is approximately 5 days. Symptoms include transient diarrhea with profuse watery stools, abdominal cramps, and occasional fever and nausea with or without vomiting. The duration of illness is usually 3 days to 3 weeks, but illness has been documented to last for greater than 1 month.

For immunocompromised patients, clinical features can be quite marked; the illness can become progressively more severe and can include signs of malabsorption and of fluid and electrolyte loss. Although less is known about the clinical manifestations of illness caused by I. belli, current information suggests that the illness it causes is similar to that caused by Cryptosporidium.


(*)Testing done at CDC is for research and/or outbreak situations. Contact the appropriate CDC staff member(s) to discuss any questions concerning outbreaks of gastroenteritis or methods of collecting specimens.


General guidelines

Some of the tests presently available are direct EM; immune EM; polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis; enzyme immune assays for rotavirus (groups A and B), enteric adenovirus, and astrovirus antigens; a serologic enzyme immune assay for Norwalk virus; and polymerase chain reaction for rotavirus serotyping. EIAs for calicivirus antigens and EIAs for astrovirus antibodies are being developed.

Stool -
Many viruses--including rotaviruses, adenoviruses, astroviruses, caliciviruses, the Norwalk virus, and other small, round viruses--can be detected with EM. Because the electron microscope scans a field containing a millionth of a milliliter of stool, the specimen must contain at least a million particles per milliliter for one particle of virus to be detected. In order to assure that samples contain the highest concentration of virus possible, specimens must be collected as close to the onset of illness as possible, generally within the first 48-72 hours. Watery stool specimens are most likely to contain visible particles of virus.

Freezing may alter or obliterate the morphologic characteristics of some viruses; therefore, samples should be kept refrigerated at 4 C and should not be frozen if EM examination is anticipated. Because most enteric viruses (e.g., calicivirus, the Norwalk agents, and the non-group A rotaviruses) cannot be cultivated, reagents for diagnostic tests are limited. In fact, because human stool samples are the basic source of antigen and virus, the bulk collection of specimens is always encouraged. Proper collection and storage of large-volume specimens will facilitate EM examination and allow for concentration methods that enhance the likelihood of successful testing.

Serum -

Antibodies to viruses usually begin to rise the first week after onset of illness, peak by the fourth week, and can fall by the sixth week (particularly for Norwalk agents). Acute-phase serum specimens should be collected in the first week of illness, and convalescent-phase serum specimens from the third to the fourth week after onset of illness (not later than the sixth week if the suspected pathogen is a Norwalk agent). Since many persons have preexisting antibodies to some of the viral agents, a single convalescent-phase serum sample is generally of little diagnostic value. At present, determination of the cause of outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis relies heavily on assays of serologic response; paired serum specimens should therefore be submitted for testing associated with all such outbreaks. A fourfold rise in specific antibody titer between acute-and convalescent-phase serum samples is accepted as diagnostic of a recent infection.


General guidelines

Tests available for identification of organisms include isolation procedures for Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobactor, Vibrio, Yersinia enterocolitica, Aeromonas hydrophilia, Plesiomonas shigelloides, Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli, as well as serodiagnostic assays for Salmonella typhi, Campylobacter, Vibrio cholerae, and E. coli 0157:H7. When no other pathogen is found, serotyping of E. coli recovered from ill persons and from appropriately chosen controls can identify previously unidentified E. coli pathogens. In addition, polymerase chain reaction for Shiga-like toxin-producing E. coli is presently being developed. Other diagnostic tests available are pathogenicity assays; ELISAs or DNA probes for detection of EPEC, EIEC, ETEC, and EHEC (including E. coli 0157:H7); and antimicrobial susceptibility testing, plasmid profiles, and other subtyping methods to determine the relatedness of enteric bacteria.

Stool -
A pathogenic bacterium can be identified by isolating the organism in culture, by serotyping, or by identifying a characteristic marker for virulence. Fresh stool specimens should always be used when possible to ensure that fastidious organisms and toxins that decompose easily are detected before they degenerate. Expedient refrigeration of specimens is important since bacteria can easily be overgrown by competing organisms in stool specimens left at room temperature for greater than 4 hours. If testing must be delayed beyond 48 hours after the specimen is collected, the specimen should be frozen to retard the overgrowth of bacteria. Since most bacterial pathogens can be cultured from appropriately acquired rectal swab specimens, rectal swabs or swabs of fresh stools are preferred to bulk stool specimens. This method of collection also facilitates storage and transport.

Serum - Specific antibody testing may be possible for some bacterial enteric agents such as Shigella. As is true for viral infections, antibody titers to bacterial agents generally rise by the end of the first week after onset of illness and peak by 3-4 weeks. A fourfold rise in specific antibody titer is accepted as diagnostic of a recent infection.


General guidelines

Some tests available for formalin-preserved specimens include the formalin-ethyl acetate concentration, which is used for both helminths and protozoa, and the kinyoun carbol-fuchsin(modified acid-fast)-stained slide, which is used for Cryptosporidium. PVA-preserved specimens are used to prepare Trichrome-stained slides and examined for protozoa.

Stool -
Parasites are usually detected and identified with microscopy of fresh or appropriately preserved stool specimen (although parasites can sometimes be grown on special media). Fresh specimens are needed for direct microscopy because trophozoites are fragile and may not survive environmental stress. The PVA and formalin fixatives preserve the morphology of cysts and trophozoites in stool specimens for diagnostic testing.

Serum -
Unlike outbreaks of gastroenteritis due to bacteria or viruses, an outbreak of parasitic diarrheal illness can sometimes be identified with a convalescent-phase serum specimen only. However, it is sometimes necessary to have both acute and convalescent serum specimens to make a definitive diagnosis.


Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer
Viral Gastroenteritis Unit
Respiratory and Enteric Virus Branch
Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases
Center for Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control
Mailstop G-04, SB47, Bldg. 7
Atlanta, GA 30333
(404) 639-3040

EIS Officer
Enteric Diseases Branch
Division of Bacterial Diseases
Center for Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control
Mailstop C-09
Bldg. 1, Rm. 5428
Atlanta, GA 30333
(404) 639-3753

EIS Officer
Epidemiology Activity
Parasitic Diseases Branch
Division of Parasitic Diseases
Center for Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control
Mailstop F-13
Bldg. 23, Chamblee
Atlanta, GA 30333
(404) 488-4178


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Benenson AS, ed. Control of communicable diseases in man. 14th ed. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association, 1985.

Ciba Foundation. Novel diarrhea viruses. In: Ciba foundation symposium. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1987:128.

Cohen ML. Epidemiology of diarrheal disease: infectious diarrhea. Infect Dis Clin North Am 1988; 2(3): 557-70.

Feigin RD, Cherry JD, eds. Gastrointestinal infections: textbook of pediatric infectious diseases. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co., 1987.

Guerrant, RL. Gastrointestinal infections and food poisoning. In: Mandel GL, Douglas Jr RG, Bennet JE, eds. Principles and

practice of infectious diseases. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1985:635-46.

Guerrant RL, Hughes JM. Nausea, vomiting, and non-inflammatory diarrhea. In: Mandell GL, Douglas Jr. RG, Bennet JE, eds. Principles and practice of infectious diseases. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1985:646-55.

Hughes JM. Food poisoning. In: Mandell GL, Douglas Jr. RG, Bennet JE, eds. Principles and practice of infectious diseases. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1985:680-91.

Kapikian AZ, Chanock RM. Viral gastroenteritis. In: Evans AS, ed. Viral infections of humans: epidemiology and control. 3rd ed. New York: Plenum Medical Book Co., 1989.

Manson-Bahr PEC, Bell DR. Diarrhea caused by protozoa. In: Manson's tropical diseases. 19th ed. London: Bailliere Tindall, 1987.

Penaranda ME, Cubitt WD, Sinarachatanant P, Taylor DN, Linkanonsakul S, Saif L, Glass RI. Group C rotavirus infections in patients with diarrhea in Thailand, Nepal, and England. J Infect Dis 1989;160(3):392-7.

Pickering LK, Cleary TG. Approach to patients with gastrointestinal infections and food poisoning. In: Feigin RD, Cherry JD, eds. Textbook of pediatric infectious diseases. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co., 1987:622-51.

Tanowitz HB, Weiss LM, Wittner M. Diagnosis and treatment of protozoan diarrheas. Am J Gastroenterol. 1988;82(4):339-50.

Thorne GM. Diagnosis of infectious diarrheal diseases: infectious diarrhea. Infect Dis Clin North Am 1988; 2(3): 747-74.


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Table 1

TABLE 1. General instructions for collection of stool specimens*
Instructions                               Type of agent to be tested for
for collecting     -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
specimens              Virus                        Bacterium                  Parasite
When to collect   Within 48-72           During period of active      Any time after onset of
                  hours after            diarrhea (preferably as      illness (preferably as
                  onset of illness.      soon after onset of          soon after onset of
                                         illness as possible).        illness as possible).
How much          As much stool          Two rectal swabs or swabs    A fresh stool sample from
to collect        sample from each       of fresh stool from each of  each of 10 ill persons;
                  of 10 iII persons      10 ill persons; samples      samples from 10 controls
                  as possible (at least  from 10 controls may also    may also be submitted.
                  10 cc each person);    be submitted.
                  samples from 10
                  controls may also
                  be submitted.

Method of         Place fresh stool      For rectal swabs, moisten    Collect a bulk stool
collection        specimens (liquid      each of two swabs in Cary-   specimen, unmixed with
                  preferable),           Blair medium first, then     urine, in a clean container.
                  unmixed with           insert sequentially 1-1.5    Place a portion of each
                  urine, in clean,       inches in rectum and gently  stool sample into 10%
                  dry containers,        rotate. Place both swabs     formalin and polyvinyl
                  (e.g., urine           into the same Cary-Blair     alcohol preservatives at
                  specimen cups).        medium tube. Break off top   a ratio of 1 part stool
                                         portions of swab sticks      to 3 parts preservative.
                                         and discard.                 Mix well.
Storage of        Immediately re-        Immediately refrigerate at   Store at room temperature,
specimen after    frigerate at 4 C.      4 C if testing is to be      or refrigerate at 4 C.
collection        DO NOT FREEZE          done within 48 hours after   DO NOT FREEZE.
                  if electron            collection; otherwise,
                  microscopy is          freeze samples at -70 C.
Transportation    Keep refrigerated.     Refrigerate as directed      Refrigerate as directed
                  Place bagged and       for viral specimens. For     for viral specimens.
                  sealed specimens on    frozen samples: place        For room-temperature
                  ice or with frozen     bagged and sealed            samples: mail in
                  refrigerant packs      samples on dry ice. Mail     water-proof containers.
                  in an insulated        in insulated box by          DO NOT FREEZE.
                  box. Send by           overnight mail.
                  overnight mail.
                  DO NOT FREEZE.
*Label each specimen container with a waterproof marker. Put samples in sealed,
waterprool containers (e.g., plastic bags). Batch collection and send by overnight
mail, scheduled to arrive at destination on a weekday during business hours.

Table 2

TABLE 2. Information relevant to outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis
                                  Selected symptoms*
                  Patient age    ------------------        Incubation    Duration of      Mode of
Causative agent    groupings      Vomiting     Fever         period       illness       transmission
Astrovirus       young children   occasional   occasional   1-4 days     2-3 days;      food, water,
                 and elderly                                             occasionally   fecal-oral
                 people                                                  1-14 days

Calicivirus      infants, young   common for   occasional   1-3 days     1-3 days       food, water,
                 children,        infants;                                              nosocomial,
                 and adults       variable                                              fecal-oral
                                  for adults

adenovirus       young children   common       common       7-8 days     8-12 days      nosocomial,

Norwalk virus    older children   common       rare or      18-48 hours  12-48 hours    food, water,
                 and adults                    mild                                     PTP,+ ?air,

group A          infants and      common       common       1-3 days     5-7 days       water, PTP,
                 toddlers                                                               air,

group B          children and     variable     rare         56 hours     3-7 days       water, PTP,
adults                                                      (average)                   fecal-oral

group C          infants,         unknown      unknown      24-48 hours  3-7 days       fecal-oral
                 and adults
*Diarrhea is common and is usually loose, watery, and non-bloody when associated with gastroenteritis.
+PTP = person-to-person.
? = not confirmed.

Table 3

TABLE 3. Information relevant to outbreaks of bacterial gastroenteritis
                                                       Selected symptoms
                         Patient age                   -----------------        Incubation    Duration of    Mode of
Causative agent           groupings         Vomiting   Fever       Diarrhea        period        illness     transmission
Bacillus cereus and,      all               common      rare       usually not   1-6 hours     <24 hours      food
Staphylococcus aureus                                               prominent
Campylobacterjejuni       all groups,       variable    variable   may be        3-5 days      1-4 days,      food, water,
                           especially <1                            dysenteric   (1-7 days)     occasionally   pets,
                           year old and                                                        >10 days       fecal-oral
                           young adults

Enterotoxigenic           adults, infants,  occasional  variable   watery to     12-72 hours   3-5 days       food, water,
  Escherichia coli         children                                 profuse watery                            PTP,*fecal-oral
Enteropathogenic           infants          variable    variable   watery to      2-6 days     1-3 weeks      food, water,
  Escherichia coli                                                  profuse watery                            PTP,fecal-oral
Enteroinvasive           adults             occasional  common     may be         2-3 days     1-2 weeks      food, water,
  Escherichia coli                                                  dysenteric                                PTP,fecal-oral
Enterohemorrhagic        <10 years          common      rare       first watery,  3-5 days     7-10 days      food, PTP,
  Escherichia coli        (50%),                         or mild    then grossly              (1-12 days)     fecal-oral
                          15 months-                                bloody
                          73 years

Salmonella               all groups,        occasional  common     loose, watery, 8-48 hours   3-5 days       food, water,
                          especially                                occasionally                              fecal-oral
                          infants and                               bloody
                          young children

Shigella                 all groups,       occasional   common     may be         1-7 days      4-7 days      food, water,
                          especially                                dysenteric                                PTP,
                          6 months-                                                                           fecal-oral
                          10 years

Yersinia                 all groups,       occasional   common     mucoid,        2-7 days      1 day-3wks    food, water,
  enterocolitica          especially                                occasionally                (average      PTP, pets,
                          older children                            bloody                       9 days)      fecal-oral
                          and young

Vibrio cholerae          all groups        common       variable   may be profuse 9-72 hours    3-4 days      fecal-oral,
                                            and watery                                                        food, water
*PTP = person-to-person.

Table 4

TABLE 4. Information relevant to outbreaks of parasitic gastroenteritis
                                               Selected symptoms
                    Patient age                -----------------                  Incubation    Duration of        Mode of
Causative agent      groupings     Fever        Diarrhea         Abdominal          period        illness        transmission

Balantidium coli    unknown        rare         occasional       mild to           unknown       unknown         food, water,
                                                mucous           severe pain                                     fecal-oral
                                                or blood

Cryptosporidium     children,      occasional   profuse,         occasional        1-2 weeks     4 days-         food, water,
                    adults                      watery           cramping                        3 weeks         PTP,* pets,
                    with AIDS                                                                                    fecal-oral

Entamoeba           all groups,    variable     occasional       colicky pain      2-4 weeks     weeks-          food, water,
histolytica         adults                      mucous                                           months          fecal-oral
                                                or blood

Giardia lamblia     all groups,    rare         loose, pale,     cramps,           5-25 days     1-2 weeks       food, water,
                    children                    greasy           bloating,                       to months       fecal-oral
                                                stools           flatulence                      and years
Isospora belli      adults         unknown      loose stools     unknown           9-15 days     2-3 weeks       fecal-oral

                    with AIDS
*PTP = person-to-person.

This page last reviewed: Wednesday, January 27, 2016
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