The Distribution of Enteric Infections Utilizing Stool Microbial Polymerase Chain Reaction Testing in Clinical Practice

Jordan E. Axelrad, Andrew Joelson, Yael Nobel, Susan Whittier, Garrett Lawlor, Mark S. Riddle, Peter H.R. Green, Benjamin Lebwohl*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Gastrointestinal infection is a major cause of morbidity. We sought to characterize the pathogenic etiologies of gastrointestinal infection to identify seasonal patterns and predictors of specific infections utilizing a multiplex PCR assay in clinical practice. Methods: We performed a cross-sectional study of 9403 patients who underwent 13,231 stool tests with a FilmArray gastrointestinal pathogen PCR panel during an episode of diarrhea from March 2015 to May 2017. Our primary outcome was the presence of a positive panel. Logistic regression was used to test for associations between season and infections. Results: A positive result was found in 3426 tests (25.9%) in 2988 patients (31.8%), yielding 4667 pathogens consisting of 1469 viruses (31.5%), 2925 bacteria (62.7%), and 273 parasites (5.8%). Age less than 50 years was associated with a higher prevalence of pathogens compared to age ≥ 50 (p < 0.0001). The overall prevalence of a positive result for bacteria peaked in the summer (635, 29.2%), and the prevalence of viruses peaked in the winter (446, 31.8%). Compared to the winter, testing in the summer yielded a higher prevalence of bacteria (OR 1.52, 95% CI 1.33, 1.73, p < 0.0001) and lower odds of viruses (OR 0.69, 95% CI 0.58, 0.81, p < 0.0001), primarily driven by E. coli species and norovirus. Conclusions: Season was a major determinant in detecting specific pathogens. Our substantially lower positivity rate than previous reports in the literature on multiplex PCR assays may more accurately reflect true clinical practice. Recognizing the temporal distribution of enteric pathogens may help facilitate empiric treatment decisions in certain clinical situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1900-1909
Number of pages10
JournalDigestive Diseases and Sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Diarrhea
  • Enteric infection
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Multiplex PCR
  • Seasonality


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