Health Awarelets: Giardia

Giardia: looks so cute, feels so bad!

Giardia is a severe intestinal infection caused by the parasite, Giardia lamblia. It is transmitted commonly by drinking contaminated water, oftentimes from a mountain stream. Up to 80% of all water in the wild contains this protozoan, according to the EPA. Contamination usually results from animal feces. Hikers are particularly susceptible to this infection by virtue of drinking from "pristine" streams.

Giardia can also be transmitted via indirect contact with an infected person's feces, as a result of poor hand washing habits, or soiled garments (as in a day care center). The symptoms are nasty - all the typical intestinal syndromes - and can take months to abate, even with antimicrobial therapy.

Standard advice for prevention: boil water when camping, or use a portable purifier. Chlorine alone won't protect against giardia cysts. Don't drink the water anywhere where sanitation and hygiene are poor. Also, wash hands well after using the toilet. Be particularly cautious when handling soiled diapers from children who attend daycare or preschool centers.

University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter. Volume 16, Issue 10, July 2000. From the School of Public Health.

Comment: Under the microscope, giardia seems to take on a genial personality, its anatomy giving the appearance of facial features smiling back. Ask anyone who has been infected by this fellow, however, and you will hear a different story. This bug can rip you!!

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