Giardiasis

Giardiasis is an infection in your small intestine. It’s caused by a microscopic parasite called Giardia lamblia. Giardiasis spreads through contact with infected people. And you can get giardiasis by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Pet dogs and cats also frequently contract giardia.

This condition can be found all over the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, it’s more common in overcrowded developing countries that lack sanitary conditions and water quality control.

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Dr. Anirban Deep Banerjee

Glamblia are found in animal and human feces. These parasites also thrive in contaminated food, water, and soil, and can survive outside a host for long periods of time. Accidentally consuming these parasites can lead to an infection.

The most common way to get giardiasis is to drink water that contain G. lamblia. Contaminated water can be in swimming pools, spas, and bodies of water, such as lakes. Sources of contamination include animal feces, diapers, and agricultural runoff.

Contracting giardiasis from food is less common because heat kills the parasites. Poor hygiene when handling food or eating produce rinsed in contaminated water can allow the parasite to spread.

Giardiasis also spreads through personal contact. For example, unprotected anal sex can pass the infection from one person to another.

Changing a child’s diaper or picking up the parasite while working in a day care center are also common ways to become infected. Children are at high risk for giardiasis because they’re likely to encounter feces when wearing diapers or potty training.

The giardia parasite is a very common intestinal parasite. Although anyone can pick up giardia parasites, some people are especially at risk:

  • Children. Giardia infection is far more common in children than it is in adults. Children are more likely to come in contact with feces, especially if they wear diapers, are toilet training or spend time in a child care center. People who live or work with small children also are at higher risk of developing giardia infection.
  • People without access to safe drinking water. Giardiasis is rampant wherever sanitation is inadequate or water isn't safe to drink. You're at risk if you travel to places where giardiasis is common, especially if you aren't careful about what you eat and drink. The risk is greatest in rural or wilderness areas.
  • People who have anal sex. Having anal sex without using a condom puts you at increased risk of giardia infection, as well as sexually transmitted infections.
Some people can carry giardia parasites without experiencing any symptoms. Symptoms of giardiasis generally show up one or two weeks after exposure. Common symptoms include:
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • diarrhea or greasy stools
  • loss of appetite
  • vomiting
  • bloating and abdominal cramps
  • weight loss
  • excessive gas
  • headaches
  • abdominal pain

Signs and symptoms of giardia infection may last two to six weeks, but in some people they last longer or recur.

You may have to submit one or more stool samples for testing. A technician will check your stool sample for giardia parasites. You could have to submit more samples during treatment. Your doctor may also perform an enteroscopy. This procedure involves running a flexible tube down your throat and into your small intestine. This will allow your doctor to examine your digestive tract and take a tissue sample.

Children and adults who have giardia infection without symptoms usually don't need treatment unless they're likely to spread the parasites. Many people who do have problems often get better on their own in a few weeks.

When signs and symptoms are severe or the infection persists, doctors usually treat giardiasis with medications such as:

  • Metronidazole (Flagyl). Metronidazole is the most commonly used antibiotic for giardia infection. Side effects may include nausea and a metallic taste in the mouth. Don't drink alcohol while taking this medication.
  • Tinidazole (Tindamax). Tinidazole works as well as metronidazole and has many of the same side effects, but it can be given in a single dose.
  • Nitazoxanide (Alinia). Because it comes in a liquid form, nitazoxanide may be easier for children to swallow. Side effects may include nausea, flatulence, yellow eyes and brightly colored yellow urine.

There are no consistently recommended medications for giardiasis in pregnancy because of the potential for adverse drug effects to the baby. If your symptoms are mild, your doctor may recommend delaying treatment until after the first trimester. If treatment is necessary, discuss the best available treatment option with your doctor.

No drug or vaccine can prevent giardia infection. But common-sense precautions can go a long way toward reducing the chances that you'll become infected or spread the infection to others.

  • Wash your hands. This is the simplest and best way to prevent most kinds of infection. Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers and before eating or preparing food. When soap and water aren't available, alcohol-based sanitizers are an excellent alternative.
  • Purify wilderness water. Avoid drinking untreated water from shallow wells, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds and streams unless you filter it or boil it for at least 10 minutes at 158 F (70 C) first.
  • Keep your mouth closed. Try not to swallow water when swimming in pools, lakes or streams.
  • Use bottled water. When traveling to parts of the world where the water supply is likely to be unsafe, drink and brush your teeth with bottled water that you open yourself. Don't use ice, and avoid raw fruits and vegetables, even those you peel yourself.
  • Practice safer sex. If you engage in anal sex, use a condom every time. Avoid oral-anal sex unless you're fully protected.

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