Giardia infection, just like its name suggests, is caused by a microscopic parasite called giardia, which can be found all over the world, but especially in the areas with poor sanitation and unclean water.
This infection is the most common parasitical waterborne infection in the United States. The infecting agent can be found in rivers, streams and lakes, and it can make its way to the municipal water supplies too, which is where the infection usually starts. It can also be found in spas, swimming pools and wells. People generally contract it through drinking contaminated water, through food and through person-to-person contact.
The symptoms of giardia infection include watery, foul smelling diarrhea, alternating with soft and greasy stool, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, gas, belching, nausea, vomiting and weight loss.
Giardia is treated with several drugs but in some cases the infection is unresponsive. Even after the infection clears, the gastrointestinal problems will continue for some time. It is therefore clear that the prevention is the best defense against giardia infection.
Prevention of giardia
There is no drug that can prevent giardia infection. However, common sense and a normal level of precaution with food and water will significantly reduce the risk of contracting giardia. The simplest and the most effective means of prevention is proper and frequent washing of hands, especially before meals and before managing food. Of course, it is vital to wash hands after using the toilet or handling diapers and such.
When washing hands, the water should be running and warm or hot, the soap should be mild and antibacterial and the hands should be dried with disposable paper towels. If there is no running water or soap, an alcohol-based sanitizer can be used instead.
When traveling to places with suspicious water supply quality and low sanitary standards, it is highly recommended to only drink bottled water and to eat foods from trusted sources. Food produced near places where cattle is kept, especially if there is a lot of manure, should be avoided altogether. In areas with low quality of municipal water supply, fruit and vegetables should be washed using bottled water.
If possible, the water used at home should be purified, even if it is not used for drinking. Keeping the mouth closed and avoiding swallowing water while showering, bathing, swimming in a pool, a lake, sea or river, is also very important.
Giardia can be transmitted through sex too. For this reason, it is very important to always use condoms, especially for oral sex.