Giardiasis is basically an infection in the small intestine. This infection is caused by the microscopic parasite – Giardia lamblia. There are many ways to get this infection like by having any type of contact with an infected person or by having contaminated food and water. This parasite is also usually found in pet dogs and cats.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this infection is common all around the world. However, most of the cases are reported in those overcrowded developing countries where they have poor sanitary conditions plus lacks good quality drinking water.
What are the Causes of Giardiasis?
Parasites called Giardia lamblia are present in small intestines of animals and humans. Before these parasites are egested out in stool they cover themselves in hard shells called cysts. Cysts help them to survive outside the body for several months. When it enters the host, the cyst dissolves and disappears releasing the microscopic parasite in the intestine.
A person gets an infection when he ingests the parasitic cysts accidentally either by drinking contaminated water or by eating contaminated food. He may also get the infection through contact with an infected person.
1. Drinking Contaminated Water
Most people become infected with Giardia lamblia by drinking contaminated water. These microscopic parasites are usually present in lakes, ponds rivers, municipal water supply, cisterns, swimming pools, water parks and other water bodies worldwide.
Ground and surface water gets easily contaminated by agricultural runoff, water discharge, and animal waste. The agricultural runoff contains all type of fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides that are being used for the betterment of crops. Pools and spas can get easily contaminated by babies with diapers and people having diarrhea.
2. Eating Contaminated Food
The parasites which cause this infection can also be transmitted through food. One can get this infection if food handlers having giardiasis infection do not wash their hands carefully and thoroughly or it may also be possible if the raw food is washed or irrigated by the contaminated water.
This reason is less likely to cause giardiasis in industrialized countries as properly cooked food kills the parasite giardia. Contaminated water is known to be a common source of infection than contaminated food.
3. Contact with an infected Person
You can get giardiasis if your hands get contaminated with the waste product of a human. Parents who change the diaper of their babies are at higher risk of getting this infection. Similarly, the outbreaks of this infection are easily common in child care centers.
As already mentioned above, any type of contact with an infected person will lead you to have giardiasis, yet this parasite can also spread through anal sex.
What are the Symptoms of Giardiasis?
In some of the cases, people having this infection do not experience any type of symptom while in other cases symptoms appear just after one or two weeks of exposure. Here is a rundown of the symptoms which you can get after being infected by the parasite giardia.
• Abdominal pain
• Excessive gas
• Diarrhea (greasy stools)
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• Weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Abdominal cramps
When Should You Consult a Doctor?
Immediately contact the doctor if you are having greasy stools, abdominal bloating and nausea for more than one week or you are going through dehydration. Make sure to consult a doctor if there are high chances that you will get an infection, like, if you are having a child in child care, had water from lake or stream or have visited an endemic area.
How is Giardiasis Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of Giardiasis can be done by giving your one or more stool samples. Your stool will be diagnosed to know if it contains giardiasis parasites. More samples might be needed during the treatment. An enteroscopy also may also be performed. In enteroscopy, a flexible tube is inserted in your body through mouth till it reaches your small intestine. This will help the doctor to take the sample of your body tissue and examine your digestive tract.
What are the Treatments for Giardiasis?
In most of the cases, the persons recover on its own. However, if your condition is very severe or has been prolonged, your doctor might recommend you some medications. Many of the doctors prescribe antiparasitic drugs for recovery, yet do not recommend to leave the infection to clear up itself. Some antibiotic which are used to treat the infection include:
It is one of the most prescribed medicine for children as it is in liquid form and only needed to be taken for 3 days.
This antibiotic is needed to be taken for five to seven days. The side effect of this medication is, the person will have a metallic taste in their mouth plus. This medication can also cause nausea too.
As compared to other antibiotics, this medication has a lower risk of causing the birth defects. However, it is preferable if the pregnant woman will continue to take the medications after their delivery. It is given in three doses for five to ten days.
This medication gives the same result as Metronidazole. It often treats the infection in a single dose.
What are the Complications of Giardiasis?
Giardiasis mostly does not cause death in the industrialized countries, however, it can cause serious complications typically in children and babies. Some of the complications include:
Giardiasis can cause severe diarrhea as it lowers the amount of water in your body. Low water content made difficult for your body to carry out its normal functions, leading to dehydration.
• Lactose Intolerance
One of the most common complications of giardiasis is lactose intolerance that is the body is not able to digest the milk sugar. This problem may take time to be solved after the infection is cleared up.
• Failure to Thrive
Chronic Diarrhea can cause malnutrition and will lead to poor mental and physical development of children.
What Preventive Measures you Should Take?
There is no drug or vaccine which can prevent one from getting giardiasis infection. But there are some ways through which you can prevent getting infected by the microscopic parasites. One should always wash their hands after using the toilet, changing diapers or when handling food.
Avoid drinking water from lakes, streams and other untreated water bodies. If you are traveling to areas where the water may be contaminated, use the bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Do not forget to use a condom when doing anal sex and avoid doing oral-anal sex if you are not fully protected.