Giardia is a parasite found in both drinking and recreational water. The Giardia infection has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in the United States. This parasite lives in the intestinal tract (usually the duodenum) of people and animals, including birds.
Once somebody has been infected, this parasite lives in the intestine and is passed in the stool. Because the parasite is protected by an outer shell, it can survive outside the body and in the environment for a long time.
Giardia is often asymptomatic or causes relatively mild symptoms. In some patients and at certain times of physical or emotional stress, giardia can cause symptoms, such as intense itching.
Patients can experience a variety of intestinal symptoms, which include diarrhea, gas or flatulence, greasy stools that tend to float, stomach cramps, upset stomach or nausea. These symptoms may lead to weight loss and dehydration. However, some people or animals have no symptoms at all. Giardiosis is thought to have zoonotic potential (transmissable from animals to humans).
Diagnosis of Giardia can be difficult. It may be necessary to examine multiple fresh fecal smears to find the motile trophozoites. Infected birds may only shed trophozoites and cysts intermittently, rather than continuously.
- Fecal Trichrome. Tests for the Giardia parasite itself (the most reliable method).
- ELISA Tests. Tests for the antibodies produced to combat the parasite
- Crypto/Giardia IFA and fecal stain
Self-testing is an affordable alternative and is available through this webpage. Note the collection of the first morning feces will provide the best opportunity to detect the parasite. It is important to make sure that the sample is collected fresh within minutes. Because Giardia are excreted intermittently, several fecal examinations should be performed if giardiasis is suspected. Samples from three consecutive days should be examined.
The good news is that giardia is a treatable condition.
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