In May 2003 at the Digestive Disease Week in Orlando, FL, doctors reported that someday, diagnosing stomach infections could be as easy as passing gas. Scientists described a new test focused on flatus – the strong gas emanating from stool – that is highly effective in quickly identifying tough-to-spot viral or bacterial infections of the gut.

Although a lot of joking revolves around passing gas, infections of the gastrointestinal tract are no laughing matter.

In this remarkable breakthrough, researchers from the UK have found that there are very specific chemical ‘fingerprints’ in the gas passed via the anus, and that diagnoses can be made within an hour.

So far, the technology has displayed impressive accuracy, correctly identifying the potentially life-threatening bug, Clostridium difficile, 100% of the time, and the Norwalk virus – responsible for the 2002 highly publicized cruise-ship outbreaks – 93% of the time. The test was also highly accurate in spotting rotavirus, a major cause of diarrhea in children. Other infectious diseases, including cholera and typhoid, are being looked at for inclusion in this testing method.

The researchers are now looking at ways to reduce the size and portability of the testing device, and to simplify it so that one-day patients may simply pass gas into the device, with no need for a stool sample.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 137 – May/June 2003