What’s giardiasis?

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Giardiasis is an intestinal disease caused by a common parasite that can be found in contaminated water or surfaces. Symptoms include diarrhea, gas, and abdominal cramping, and can last up to six weeks. Treatment involves medication and rehydration.

Anyone who has ever been ill with giardiasis will never forget the experience. Giardiasis is an intestinal disease caused by a common parasite, Giardia intestinalis. The microscopic parasite can be found in almost any country, including the United States. It lives within its host’s intestines and is passed through the host’s feces. One of the main problems with Giardia is that it has a protective shell that allows it to live outside the host body, in the environment, for months.

Since the Giardia parasite is so common, one may wonder how they can get infected with giardiasis. As mentioned above, Giardia lives in the intestines of both people and animals. Most people become infected when they accidentally ingest parasite-infected water or ingest the parasite on contaminated surfaces. For example, a person may touch a bathroom doorknob, a changing table, or a toy, where there is feces from an infected person unknowingly on the surface. Subsequently, the person eats or puts their hands in their mouths and ingests the parasite, causing giardiasis.

There are several other ways a person can get giardiasis. For example, a hiker may come across a pristine lake, mountain stream, or shallow water hole. Although the flow may seem crystal clear, if the feces of an infected animal or person is in the water, it will contract giardiasis. Also, if the ice is made from a contaminated water source, the Giardia parasite may be present. Recreational water is also unsafe: swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks and fountains can be contaminated with feces that have the Giardia parasite and thus cause giardiasis.

The symptoms of giardiasis are clear and unforgettable. Diarrhea, gas, bloating, extreme abdominal cramping, nausea, and loose stools are all signs of the infection. If symptoms are not treated, extreme dehydration and weight loss can occur. Once the person becomes infected with the Giardia parasite, it can take seven days to two weeks before symptoms appear. Symptoms can last from two to six weeks, and sometimes even longer. Fortunately, some medications can shorten the length of time a person is affected by symptoms.

If a person thinks they have giardiasis, they can send a stool sample to their doctor. A lab will test the sample to see if the Giardia parasite is present. Once giardiasis is diagnosed, there are prescription medications that help treat the infection. However, the main concern of the infection is dehydration. As a result, drinking plenty of fluids will help replenish fluids lost from extreme diarrhea over the course of the infection.

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