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Diagnosis of Intestinal Parasites

Test codes: 681, 1748, 3562, 3950, 4496, 6652, 6653, 8625, 10018, 17297, 34964, 39441, 90389

While the ova and parasite (O&P exam) is ordered most often, it is not recommended as the routine test for diagnosis of intestinal parasites in the United States, as many intestinal parasites are not reliably detectable by O&P exam. Test recommendations for specific parasitic pathogens are listed in Table 1. 

Table 1. Recommended Tests for Routine Diagnosis of Intestinal Parasites (click to open in new tab)

Quest Diagnostics offers O&P testing in accordance with guidelines set forth by the Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) and in concert with best practices published in various American Society of Microbiology (ASM) press books for optimizing the collection, testing, and reporting of human parasitic pathogens.1-4 O&P exams may detect trophozoites and/or cysts of important human parasitic pathogens including Cryptosporidium sp, Coccidia sp, Entamoeba histolytica, E histolytica/dispar, Giardia sp, Isospora sp, Microsporidia sp, Schistosoma mansoni, and Schistosoma haematobium, as well as non-pathogenic parasites that indicate exposure to unclean environmental sources.

Yes. Recommended testing can vary depending on symptoms, travel history, and geographic prevalence of disease. Table 2 provides guidance on this topic based upon ASM and IDSA recommendations. 

Table 2 for FAQ 203 version 2: Recommended Parasite Testing in Specific Situations (click to open in new window)

Parasites may only be shed intermittently and repeat testing may be necessary for detection. For routine examination for parasites before treatment, a minimum of 3 specimens, collected on alternate days, is recommended.2-3 For patients without diarrhea, 2 of the specimens should be collected after normal bowel movements, and 1 after a cathartic, such as magnesium sulfate. If the patient has diarrhea, laxatives should not be used. Submission of more than 1 specimen collected on the same day usually does not increase the sensitivity of the test.2-4,6

Preferred transport media for stool O&P exams include either a single vial of Total-Fix or paired vials of 10% formalin and PVA. These transport media have met verification and validation criteria for reliability with respect to our specific human parasitic pathogen testing methodologies.1-4, 6

We do not accept Ecofix, Protofix, SAF, or any other preservatives outside of those mentioned above. Any transport media besides those listed as “acceptable” above have either not been validated or did not pass validation criteria for use with our specific testing methodologies.7-8

Data suggest that for patients who have been hospitalized for more than 3 days, diarrhea is generally the result of non-parasitic causes.2

Urine is acceptable for the detection of Schistosoma haematobium. Urine should be collected around noon and submitted in a sterile, leak-proof container, and transported refrigerated to the laboratory as soon as possible.

Sputum or bronchoalveolar lavage may be submitted in Total-Fix, 10% formalin or unpreserved for examination when Paragonimus westermani eggs, Strongyloides stercoralis larvae, Ascaris lumbricoides larvae, or hookworm larvae are suspected. Unpreserved specimens should be refrigerated and transported to the laboratory as soon as possible.

If a worm is visible in the patient sample, submit worm in alcohol in a leak-proof container for test code 3950 Parasite Identification, Worm. Do NOT order an O&P exam or submit in Total-Fix or other stool preservative.

The pinworm exam (test code 4496) is the recommended test for detection of Enterobius vermicularis (pinworm). A special collection device called a pinworm paddle can be obtained from Client Supplies and is used to collect perianal material. Alternatively, clear cellulose tape applied to a clear glass slide can be submitted. E vermicularis most often infects children and is associated with perineal pruritus.


  1. CLSI. Procedure for Recovery and Identification of Parasites from the Intestinal Tract. CLSI document M28-A2. Clinical Laboratory Standars Institute; 2005.
  2. Garcia LS, Bruckner DA. Diagnostic Medical Parasitology. 5th ed. American Society of Microbiology; 2007.
  3. Shimizu RY, Garcia LS. Specimen collection, transport and processing: parasitology. In: Jorgensen JH, Pfaller MA, Carroll KC, et al, eds. Manual of Clinical Microbiology. 11th ed. American Society of Microbiology; 2015.
  4. Leber AL, ed. Clinical Microbiology Procedures Handbook. 4th ed. American Society for Microbiology; 2016.
  5. Shane AL, Mody RK, Crump JA, et al. 2017 Infectious Diseases Society of America Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Infectious Diarrhea. Clin Infect Dis. 2017;65(12):1963-1973. doi:10.1093/cid/cix959
  6. Total-Fix™ Stool Collection System. Processing procedure. Medical Chemical Corporation Inc; 2013.
  7. Fedorko DP, Williams EC, Nelson NA, et al. Performance of three enzyme immunoassays and two direct fluorescence assays for detection of Giardia lamblia in stool specimens preserved in ECOFIX. J Clin Microbiol. 2000;38(7):2781-2783. doi:10.1128/JCM.38.7.2781-2783.2000
  8. McHardy IH, Wu M, Shimizu-Cohen R, et al. Detection of intestinal protozoa in the clinical laboratory. J Clin Microbiol. 2014;52(3):712-720. doi:10.1128/JCM.02877-13


This FAQ is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. A clinician’s test selection and interpretation, diagnosis, and patient management decisions should be based on his/her education, clinical expertise, and assessment of the patient.

Document FAQS.203 Version: 2

Version: 2: Effective 09/07/2023 to present

Version: 1: Effective 04/20/2022 to 09/07/2023

Version: 0: Effective 11/05/2018 to 04/20/2022