To determine the minimum number of Cryptosporidium oocysts that can be detected in stool specimens by diagnostic procedures, stool samples seeded with known numbers of Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts were processed by the modified Formalin-ethyl acetate (FEA) stool concentration method. FEA concentrates were subsequently examined by both the modified cold Kinyoun acid-fast (AF) staining and fluorescein-tagged monoclonal antibody (immunofluorescence [IF]) techniques. Oocysts were more easily detected in watery diarrheal stool specimens than they were in formed stool specimens. For watery stool specimens, a 100% detection rate was accomplished at a concentration of 10,000 oocysts per g of stool by both the AF staining and IF techniques. In formed stool specimens, 100% of specimens seeded with 50,000 oocysts per gram of stool were detected by the IF technique, whereas 500,000 oocysts per g of stool were needed for a 100% detection rate by AF staining. Counting of all oocysts on IF slides indicated a mean oocyst loss ranging from 51.2 to 99.6%, depending on the stool consistency as determined by the FEA concentration procedure. Our findings suggest that the most commonly used coprodiagnostic techniques may fail to detect cryptosporidiosis in many immunocompromised and immunocompetent individuals.
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