Stool Specimens – Safety

Laboratorians working with stool specimens face potential risks including ingestion of eggs or cysts, skin penetration by infective larvae, and infection by nonparasitic agents found in stool and biologic fluids.  These risks can be minimized by adopting universal precautions as well as standard microbiological laboratory practices (Biosafety  Level 2).  These include:

  • Wear protective safety glasses, gloves and laboratory coat when processing specimens.
  • Use biological safety cabinets as needed.
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke, apply cosmetics or manipulate contact lenses in work area.
  • Decontaminate work surface at least once a day and after any spill of potentially infectious material.
  • If you have cuts or abrasions on the skin of your hands, cover them with adhesive dressing.
  • If you use any sharp instruments, dispose of them in a “sharps” container for decontamination.
  • Remove gloves and wash your hands after completing any task involving the handling of fecal material.

Note: These precautions should be taken even with stool specimens that have been fixed in preservatives because they may still be infectious.  For example, fixation in formalin takes days or weeks to kill some parasite cysts or oocysts that are protected by a thick shell.  Eggs of Ascaris lumbricoides may continue to develop and are infectious even when preserved in formalin.

For more information on safety, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to view biosafety guidelines or the website of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)External Web Site Icon.

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