1 What is Giardia Infection (Giardiasis)?

This is an infection of the intestines characterized by the presence of abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea, and bouts of watery diarrhea.

Giardia infection is caused by a microscopic parasite which is found worldwide, more especially in the regions with poor sanitation and unsafe water.

Giardiasis is one of the most common waterborne diseases in the US. The parasites are found in back country water streams and lakes.

They have also been found in municipal water supplies, swimming pools, whirlpools, spar and wells. The infection can be transmitted through food and person to person contact.

Giardia infection is seen with the first few weeks since exposure. However, intestinal problems may be felt, even after the parasites are gone.

Drugs have been found to be effective in the management of giardia parasites, however, not everyone can respond to them.

Prevention is the best strategy for their control and management.

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2 Symptoms

Some people may not develop signs and symptoms of giardia infection (giardiasis), but may still have the parasite and spread it to other people through their stool.

However, for those that get sick, signs and symptoms occur one week post exposure. They include:

  • Watery, sometimes foul-smelling diarrhea that may alternate with soft, greasy stools.
  • Fatigue or malaise.
  • Abdominal cramps and bloating Gas or flatulence Nausea.
  • Weight loss.

This signs may occur for a period of about 2 to 6 weeks. In some people, it may last longer.

Only see a doctor when you find you have a loose stool, abdominal bloating and nausea lasting more than a week, or when you also get dehydrated.

Inform your doctor if you suspect giardia infection and may have traveled to an endemic area in the recent past, or may have used water from a lake or stream.

3 Causes

Giardia infection is caused by a microscopic parasite which is found worldwide.

Giardia parasites live in the intestines of people and animals. However, before they passed in stool, they form a sheath as a case called cysts, this allows them to survive harsh intestinal and environmental conditions outside of the intestines for longer durations.

When they find themselves inside a host, the cyst dissolves and the parasite is released. The infection only occurs when you swallow the contaminated water from the stream or lake. Or contaminated food or through person to person contact.

The most common mechanism of getting infected with giardia is after swallowing contaminated water. Giardia parasites may be found in the lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.

Municipal supplies, wells, cisterns and swimming pools and water, parks. Ground and surface water may also become contaminated from agricultural runoff, wastewater, discharge or animal fecal matter.

Person to person contact can be transmitting giardiasis when your hands become contaminated with fecal matter.

Parents changing diapers are also at risk.

Anal sex can also be the other way through which giardiasis can be infected. 

4 Making a Diagnosis

Even after seeing your doctor, you still be referred to a gastroenterologist to receive a diagnosis of giardia infection since he is a specialist of the digestive disorders.

Before you visit your doctor, write down some of the answers to key pertinent questions such as:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Is there anything that makes it better or worse?
  • Do you work with small children?
  • What types of medications do you use?

The doctor may also ask you to lie down so that you may be evaluated by gently pressing on the various parts of your abdomen to check for the tender areas.

Your mouth and skin may also be assessed for signs of dehydration.

You may be asked to come along with a sample of your stool for analysis and diagnosis of giardiasis. Several stool samples may be required for examination in the laboratory for presence of parasites. The stools can also be used for evaluation of the effectiveness of the treatment you receive.

5 Treatment

Children and adults exposed to giardia infection and do not develop the symptoms may not require any form of treatment. They may get better on their own in a few weeks.

In case of severe signs and symptoms, or have persistent infection, the doctors may treat the giardiasis with medications such as Flagyl (metronidazole). It is a very common antibiotic for management of giardia infection.

It may however come with a few side effects such as nausea, metallc taste in the mouth. It is advised not to drink alcohol when using these drugs.

Tinidazole (Tindamax) works just like metronidazole, and have many of the similar side effects; it can be given as a single dose.

Nitazoxanide (Alinia) is developed in a liquid form and is believed to be the easier form for the children. Some of the side effects may include nausea, flatulence, yellow eyes and very brightly colored urine.

However, there is no specific recommendation for the management of giardiasis more especially during pregnancy since the drugs have potential adverse effects on the baby. However, if the symptoms are mild, it may be recommended that the treatment be delayed until after the first trimester. When the treatment is available, you may assess the best treatment option with you doctor.

6 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with giardia infection.

Giardia is a common parasite that infects the intestines. Anyone can be affected with Giardia parasites. However, the children are at more risk than the adults.

People working with smaller children are also at more risk of developing Giardia infection.

Lack of access to safe drinking water exposes the people to giardiasis. When travelling to regions where giardiasis is common, one needs to be careful about what you eat and drink.

The people in the rural and wilderness are at the greatest risk of infection due to the use of unclean and untreated water.

People who perform anal sex without using a condom expose one to the risk.

Common complication in giardiasis include dehydration since it results in severe diarrhea, dehydration may arise from lack of intake of water. Chronic diarrhea from giardia infection can lead to malnutrition; affect the children mental and physical development.

Often people with giardia infection become lactose intolerant as a result of their inability to digest sugar milk. This problem proceeds even after management of giardiasis.