Open Access Research article

Comparison of rectal swabs and faeces for real-time PCR detection of enteric agents in Rwandan children with gastroenteritis

Jean-Claude Kabayiza13, Maria E Andersson3, Christina Welinder-Olsson3, Tomas Bergström3, Gregoire Muhirwa2 and Magnus Lindh3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Paediatrics, National University of Rwanda, Butare, Rwanda

2 Department of Clinical Biology, National University of Rwanda, Butare, Rwanda

3 Department of Infectious Diseases, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:447  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-447

Published: 27 September 2013



Molecular diagnostics have emerged as an efficient and feasible alternative for broad detection of pathogens in faeces. However, collection of stool samples is often impractical in both clinical work and in epidemiology studies. The aim of this study was to investigate the diagnostic performance of rectal swabs as compared with traditional faeces samples for detection of enteric agents by PCR.


Three hundred twenty-six pairs of rectal swab and stool samples, obtained from Rwandan children aged 0.5-4.99 years, with or without diarrhoea, were analysed by multiple real-time PCR amplifying 3 viral, 6 bacterial and one protozoan target.


For all agents there was a significant correlation (R2 0.31-0.85) between Ct values in faeces and rectal swabs. For most agents the Ct values, a marker for target concentration, were significantly lower (by 1–3 cycles) in faeces, indicating pathogen content up to ten times higher than in rectal swabs. Despite this, there was no significant difference in detection rate between faeces and rectal swabs for any agent, reflecting that pathogen concentration was far above the limit of detection in the majority of cases.


The similar detection rates and the Ct value correlations as compared with traditional faeces samples indicate that rectal swabs are accurate for real-time PCR-based identification of enteric agents and may be used also for quantitative estimation of pathogen load.