Giardia lamblia, also known as Giardia intestinalis or Lamblia intestinalis is a microscopic parasite that infects the gastrointestinal tract of humans.
Infection causes giardiasis, a diarrhoeal illness. It is a type of gastroenteritis.
It is a major cause of intestinal disease worldwide. It is also one of the most common causes of waterborne disease.
It can be found in both drinking and recreational water such as swimming pools, hot tubs and Jacuzzis.
Giardiasis can occur throughout the population. However, it has a higher prevalence is in children than adults. Chronic giardiasis is more common in adults than in children.
Transmission of Giardiasis
The parasite lives in the intestine of infected humans and animals. It can be found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the excrement from infected humans and animals.
You can become infected after ingesting the parasite accidentally or by:
The infection is an issue for people camping in the wilderness or swimming in contaminated streams or lakes.
Artificial lakes formed by beaver dams are especially susceptible. Giardiasis is therefore often referred to as Beaver Fever.
Use of a filter or boiling is recommended for purifying drinking water in wilderness camping etc.
Cool moist conditions favour the survival of the parasite.
Some people infected with giardiasis show no symptoms. Such people can still serve as carriers of the disease.
Others will show the following symptoms:
Vomiting and nausea are the major symptoms. The symptoms generally show up 7 to 10 days after the organism is ingested. The symptoms may last 2 to 6 weeks and sometimes slightly longer.
Chronic infections are rare but when they do happen, they can last for months or years.
Young children and pregnant women are very susceptible to dehydration resulting from diarrhoea. They should therefore drink plenty of fluids while ill.
A number of drugs are available to treat the infection. Metronidazole, whose brand name is Flagyl, can be taken 3 times a day for 5 to 10 days. Its side effects include a metallic taste in the mouth and nausea.
Flagyl should not be used alongside alcohol. It should also not be taken in the early stages of pregnancy.
Young children under 5 years can be treated with furazolidone whose brand name is Furoxone. It has fewer side effects and comes in a liquid form. It should not be given to babies under 1 month old.
Giardiasis is very contagious and the whole family needs to be careful if one of its members is sick.
Sometimes, a doctor can require medicine be taken for a long duration. A different medicine may also be given after the first dose is completed to ensure a complete cure.
Preventing Giardia Infection
The infection is very contagious. To prevent it: