Giardiasis is defined as an illness that causes diarrhea that is caused by a microscopic parasite known as the giardia lamblia or the giardia duodenalis. Once the parasite has infected the host it lives in the intestine and is passed by feces to other victims. The parasite actually has an outer shell so that it can survive outside the body for months. Doctors are recognizing Giardia infections as a common cause of water borne disease in humans in the United States. It is also a disease that impacts people throughout the world.
How does one contract the parasite?
The Giardia parasite thrives in the intestine of the infected host animal. It can live inside humans, dogs, cats, cattle, deer and even beavers, to name a handful. Oftentimes humans are infected after accidentally swallowing the parasite. You cannot be infected through contact with blood. The following are the typical methods of transmission:
- Traveling outside of the United States where Giardiasis is more common and being exposed to uncooked food and untreated water.
- Having contact with someone who is ill with Giardiasis.
- Eating food that has not been cooked properly that has Giardia on it or in it.
- Swallowing water contaminated with Giardia that has been contaminated with the feces or sewage of humans or animals.
- Using ice or drinking water from contaminated sources or poorly maintained wells. It is also commonly transferred in the swallowing of water that has been in contact with contaminated bathroom fixtures, changing tables, diaper pails and infected persons or animals.
What are the Symptoms of Giardiasis?
Diarrhea, gas or flatulence, greasy stools that tend to float, extreme cramping, stomach pain and nausea. The concern is that the infection result in dehydration.
When will I know if I have Giardiasis?
Generally symptoms will appear 1-2 weeks after becoming infected.
How long will I put up with the symptoms of Giardiasis?
Generally the symptoms lasts from 2-6 weeks. In some people, the symptoms might last even longer.
Who is most susceptible to Giardiasis?
- Children that are in childcare settings.
- Caregivers of infected people.
- Those drinking water from contaminated sources.
- Backpackers, hikers and campers that drink untreated water.
- People that swallow water while swimming in lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. There have also been several communitywide outbreaks that have been linked to public swimming pools and water that has been contaminated with the parasite.
- International travelers.
- People exposed to human feces through sexual contact.
What to do if you think you are infected?
Your healthcare provider should be contacted immediately. It is difficult to diagnose Giardia although generally a stool sample will show the parasite if the proper test is given. A doctor can prescribe prescription drug and that may be helpful. The best way to prevent a Giardia infection is to wash hands before eating or preparing food. If you think water might be contaminated it should be heated up to a rolling boil for over 3 minutes.