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'An In-Depth Analysis of a Piece of …' Uh, You Know

Warning: Do not read this while eating.

A recent paper in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases provides an in-depth analysis of feces collected from 222 individuals in Côte d'Ivoire complete with a hard-to-beat title and rather evocative images of sample production, collection, and processing.

The researchers, led by the University of Basel's Jürg Utzinger were trying to improve methods of diagnosing helminth, or parasitic worm, infections, as well as anthelmintic drug efficacy studies and disease control programs.

They used stool samples from individuals aged 5 years to 52 years to explore the distribution of helminth eggs — used as an indicator of infection and morbidity — and also to investigate whether a process called homogenization could improve egg detection and "determined egg counts over time."

According to the paper, study participants were provided with aluminum boxes in which they were to place their fresh morning bowel movements "trying to keep it in a long, straight shape" note the time of defecation as well as which part of the sample exited the body first.

Specimens were then categorized into one of five consistency categories: sausage-shaped; sausage-shaped-but-lumpy; sausage-shaped-but-soft; lumpy; and mushy and then randomly assigned to "assessment of whole-stool homogenization or to the assessment of helminth egg distribution."

The researchers reported that their analysis showed "no clear pattern of helminth egg distribution" and also that homogenization does result in more accurate egg counts, at least in the case of one parasite, the blood fluke Schistosoma mansoni.