Giardiasis

Are you fatigued most of the time OR do you suffer from belly cramps ‘n pass diarrhoeic stools every now and then? If yes, you could be harboring the parasite Giardia in your intestines!

What is Giardiasis?

Giardiasis, popularly known as beaver fever, is the most common intestinal infestation caused by Giardia lamblia or intestinalis (a parasite or an organism that feeds off another to survive). You can contract the infection from ingesting food or water contaminated with the infected excreta of humans or animals. Children, swimmers, travelers, and hikers are commonly infected populations. Once a person or an animal such as a cat, dog, cattle, deer, or beaver gets infected with this bug, the parasite lives in their small intestines and is passed out in the poop.

The condition can be found all over the world, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, it’s more common in thickly populated developing countries (esp in the rural areas), that lack standardized sanitary conditions and water quality control, wherein chances of contamination become high (up to 15% of the population as against 2% adults and 6-8% of children in developed nations). Younger children face a higher risk as they’re likely to encounter feces when wearing diapers or potty training.

Giardiasis is the most common cause of gastrointestinal and water-borne diseases.

How do you get it?

Giardia can infect humans and animals alike and is found in their feces. It exists in two forms – active and inactive. “Tear dropped” trophozoite, the active form, usually resides in the small intestines of the host by attaching itself to the intestinal wall and is responsible for causing the signs and symptoms.

Before getting pooped out of the body, the parasite grows a hard coating/shell around it and converts into an “oval” cyst that can easily survive outside the host for long periods in water or on a surface.

The cysts are resistant to chlorine and freezing but get killed by heat, desiccation (drying) and removed by filtration.

The major source of infection with Giardia parasite is contaminated food, water, and soil; while the sources of contamination can include human/animal feces, diapers, and agricultural runoff. You get the infection if you encounter the parasite or the cyst and consume it accidentally (a single cyst liberates two trophozoites upon reaching the small intestines). You might:

  • Touch contaminated surfaces like bathroom handles, changing tables, diaper pails, or toys, then eat without washing your hands.
  • Drink water or use ice made from an untreated water source – like a lake, stream, or well – that’s home to giardia.
  • Swallow the parasite while you take a spa, swim or play in water bodies like jacuzzis, pools, rivers, lakes, seas.
  • Eat uncooked/undercooked food that contains or is rinsed in contaminated water harboring the parasite.
  • Come into close personal contact with someone who has giardiasis – unprotected anal/oral sex. 
  • Travel to countries where it’s a common occurrence.

Contracting giardiasis from food is less common because heat kills the parasite.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of giardiasis generally show up 1 to 3 weeks after exposure and will probably last for 2 to 6 weeks. Common symptoms include:

  • sudden onset of diarrhea (semi-solid to pure liquid stools), foul-smelling and greasy, that float
  • bloating and/or flatulence
  • abdominal cramps
  • belching, nausea or vomiting
  • anorexia or loss of appetite
  • dehydration
  • weight loss and fatigue
  • headaches

Some people can carry giardia parasite without experiencing any symptoms.

Who are at risk?

While anyone can catch giardiasis, some people are more likely than others to get the infection:

  • Parents and childcare workers who change diapers
  • Children in childcare centers, including diaper-aged kids
  • People who live in the same household as someone with giardiasis
  • Those who drink water or use ice made from untreated water
  • Backpackers, hikers, and campers who drink unsafe water or who don’t practice good hygiene (like proper handwashing) on the trail
  • International travelers
  • People who have anal/oral sex

How can you prevent it?

There isn’t a preventable vaccine for Giardiasis, but there are steps you can take to lower the risk of contracting:

  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water after you use the toilet, change diapers, and before you eat or prepare food.
  • Always use filtered or boiled water.
  • Try not to swallow water when you swim in a pool, lake, or stream.
  • Avoid drinking surface water unless it’s been boiled, treated with iodine, or filtered. Carry bottled water with you when you go hiking or camping.
  • Don’t consume tap water when traveling in a region with unsafe water. Use bottled water to even brush your teeth or rinse your mouth. Ice and other beverages made in tap water can harbor the infection.
  • Avoid eating uncooked local produce.
  • Use a condom if you have anal sex.

Complications associated with giardiasis

Giardiasis can lead to the complication of “malabsorption syndrome” causing substantial weight loss and dehydration from continued diarrhea, debility, and constant fatigue. The infection can also cause lactose intolerance in some people. Children under 5 years suffering from giardiasis are at a greater risk for malnutrition, which can interfere with their physical and mental development.

When should you need a doctor?

Let your doctor know if:

  • Your symptoms – including loose stools and nausea, last more than a week.
  • You show signs of dehydration, such as extreme thirst, dizziness, or confusion.
Tell him/her about any recent travels, interactions with children in diapers, or swimming or drinking from a waterbody.

How is giardiasis diagnosed?

Your doctor will collect a series of stool samples over several days to make a diagnosis through a microscopic lab analysis.
He/she might also perform an enteroscopy, a procedure that involves running a flexible tube down your throat into your small intestine. This will allow your doctor to examine your digestive tract and take a tissue sample to detect the presence of a Trophozoite.

Treatment

In most cases, giardiasis eventually clears up on its own. But if your infection is severe, your symptoms last more than several weeks or if you’re likely to spread the parasite, your doctor might prescribe certain antiparasitic drugs:
  • Metronidazole is an antibiotic that needs to be taken for five to seven days. It can cause nausea and leave a metallic taste in your mouth.
  • Tinidazole is as effective as metronidazole and often treats giardiasis in a single dose.
  • Nitazoxanide is a popular option for children because it’s available in liquid form and only needs to be taken for three days.
  • Paromomycin has a lower chance of causing birth defects as compared to other antibiotics, although pregnant women should wait until after delivery before taking any medication for giardiasis. This medication is given in three doses over the course of 5 to 10 days.

Homeopathic Treatment

Homeopathy, the natural science of healing, works by boosting the infection-fighting-mechanism of the body to eradicate the individual susceptibility to the infection. The medicines administered are all-natural and safe and thus can be used among all age groups including pregnant women, without any risk of toxic side-effects.

Many homoeopathic medicines have been used successfully in giardiasis such as – Abis Nigra, Aloes, Arsenic Album, Calcarea Carb, Carbo Veg, China, Chin Ars, Colchicum, Croton tig,  Iris V., Lycopodium, Merc Sol, Merc Cor, Natrum Phos, Natrum Sulph, Nux Vomica, Podophyllum, Pulsatilla, Sulphur, Trombidium, Veratrum Alb, Proteus, Dysentry Co, Gambogia, Rhus glabra, Psorinum, Phos, Mag Carb, Acid Phos, Thuja, kurchi Q, Aegle folia Q, and Acalypha Ind Q, to name a few.

After a detailed case taking and thorough examination, your physician would be able to prescribe the medicine most suitable to your individual peculiar symptoms to bring the best results.

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