In a previous article I addressed what it was like battling Giardia over a period of four months. With hiking, backpacking and summer camps becoming increasingly popular parents and individuals need to know the risk of developing Giardia and what signs and symptoms they need to look for so they can properly treat the disease.
Giardia starts as an infection in the small intestine that is caused by ingesting a parasite, The most common way of ingesting the Giardia parasite is through contact with contaminated water such as swimming or drinking the water. Known by its medical name Giardia Intestinalis, it is the most common cause of parasitic gastrointestinal disease, and it is the most common water-borne disease in the US. While almost 3 million cases are reported in the United States every year the disease is more common in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa where drinking water is not treated properly.
Giardia will present itself either as an inactive cyst, or the active form of the disease called a trophozoite which attaches itself to the lining of the small intestine and continues to spread inside the intestines. The active trophozoite exits the body through the contaminated persons feces, but it can not live very long outside the body and generally will not be spread to others through that form. The inactive cyst though can live outside the host body for a short period of time and can be passed on to others through a toilet seat, sink or any other surface touched by the infected person after they use the bathroom and either touch a surface before washing their hands or not washing their hands after.
Domestic and wild animals typically see more cases of Giardia infection then humans, but animals are usually the most common way for humans to become infected with the disease if they did not get it through a water source. The most common places you will find Giardia outside of a fresh water source is in swimming pools, water parks and hot tubs usually caused by an infected user contaminating the water after using the bathroom or coming in contact with another infected person.
Symptoms of Giardia
Symptoms of Giardia will start to appear 10 days after ingesting the parasite. The most common symptoms of Giardia are diarrhea, usually accompanied by a terrible smell, and mild to severe abdominal pain that will feel like painful cramps. Other symptoms include bloating in your stomach or a full feeling, nausea with or without vomiting. You may notice a foul smell in the vomit if you do throw up. You may also experience malaisem, fatigue and smelly gas.While it isn’t uncommon to find someone suffering from Giardia with a fever, it isn’t normal while the disease runs its course. If you experience a fever while suffering from the disease contact a Doctor to see if something else is happening.
Unfortunately, many people who become infected with Giardia typically won’t notice the symptoms until the disease has progressed. Many will pass it off for something else, or as was my case, be told by a Doctor they were suffering from something else entirely which only prolongs the disease. If you think you may have come in contact with Giardia, and you aren’t satisfied with what a Doctor has told you, seek out a second opinion or contact a Disease Specialist who may be able to answer your questions and understand your symptoms better.
Abrupt weight loss is common with Giardia, some patients will lose 10-15 pounds in one month. Losing your appetite is another symptom of the disease. When I had the disease I went from having a healthy appetite to taking two bites of a meal and being finished because I felt full. This is very common, and the way most people who have the disease lose weight so quickly.
Who is at Risk for Giardia?
Giardia occurs in areas where there is inadequate sanitation or inadequate treatment of drinking water. Giardia affects not only the host, but in the case of cysts spread through feces or food, anyone who comes into contact with the patient for up to two weeks after the parasite is spread. This is not the case with the trophozoite version of the disease which can not live for long outside the body and will not be passed to another person.
Children are easily susceptible to the disease, especially in countries with poor drinking water filtration or bodies of water in summer camps or streams where any wild animal drinks from or goes to the bathroom in. A child who attends daycare with the disease can easily spread it to other children if they don’t wash their hands properly. Due to lowered immune systems, children are more susceptible to the disease then adults.
Treatment for Giardia
According to the FDA the only drug currently approved for treating Giardia in the U.S. is Furazolidone (Furoxone) for 7-10 days. It is approximately as effective as metronidazole, which is available outside the United States and is affective in curing almost every case of Giardia. Tinidazole is also available outside the U.S. and is highly effective at treating the disease.
In some cases the disease can not be cured with the medication offered and a Doctor may have to change the dosage or add another drug to cure the disease.