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Giardia Infection (Giardiasis)

What is giardiasis?

Giardiasis is an infection of the intestine caused by a parasite called Giardia. This infection can spread easily to others.

What is the cause?

A child may get infected from:

  • food or water that has had contact with human or animal waste
  • contact with things, like bathroom fixtures or towels, that have been touched by someone who is infected with Giardia
  • being at a day care center where there are children who are infected and who are in diapers or not toilet-trained

Drinking water from a stream or lake while camping or hiking is a common way to get infected with Giardia.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually start 1 to 2 weeks after exposure to the parasite. Symptoms may include:

  • mild to severe diarrhea
  • bowel movements that are bulky, greasy, frothy, and foul smelling
  • stomach cramps
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea or vomiting
  • weight loss

Symptoms of giardiasis may last 2 to 6 weeks. Sometimes they last longer. Some people with giardiasis don’t have any symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms, examine your child, and test a sample of bowel movement. Test results are usually back in 2 or 3 days.

How is it treated?

Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic. Your child should take all of the medicine as prescribed. If your child stops taking the medicine when the symptoms are gone but before the parasite is gone from the body, the infection may come back. If your child has side effects from the medicine, contact your healthcare provider.

Taking antibiotics helps your child’s symptoms, and also help to prevent spreading the disease to others, for example, in a day care center.

How can I take care of my child?

Large amounts of watery diarrhea can cause dehydration. Dehydration needs to be treated by replacing lost fluids. Not getting enough fluids to replace the fluids the body is losing can be very dangerous. Talk with your healthcare provider about oral rehydrating or electrolyte drinks. Your provider can tell you how much to give your child. Your child can drink clear liquids, such as water, weak tea, bouillon, apple juice, and flat soft drinks without caffeine, like 7 Up, but your child also needs electrolyte solutions.

Your child can eat and drink normally in addition to drinking the electrolyte solutions. Eating may cause more bowel movements, but will not cause the illness to last longer. If your child is too sick to his stomach to drink, let him suck on ice chips or Popsicles.

Foods that are easiest to digest are soft foods, such as bananas, cooked cereal, rice, plain noodles, gelatin, soft-boiled eggs, toast or bread with jelly, and applesauce. Your child can go back to a more normal diet after 2 or 3 days but should avoid milk products and caffeine for a few days more. For several days also avoid fresh fruit (other than bananas), alcohol, greasy or fatty foods, highly seasoned or spicy foods, and most fresh vegetables. Cooked carrots, potatoes, and squash are fine. If eating seems to worsen the diarrhea, go back to clear liquids for a few hours. Then again try small amounts of the foods that are easy to digest.

If your child has cramps or stomach pain, a hot water bottle or electric heating pad on the stomach may help. Cover the hot water bottle with a towel or set the heating pad at low to prevent burns.

Don’t give your child medicines to treat diarrhea, such as Kaopectate, Imodium, or Lomotil. These medicines can make the illness worse by prolonging the infection.

If your child keeps having symptoms, gets worse, or gets new symptoms, tell your healthcare provider.

How can I help prevent giardiasis?

  • Wash your hands well with soap and water after going to the bathroom and before eating or handling food.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after you change diapers or help children use the toilet.
  • Avoid unclean water supplies, including ice cubes made from water that may be unclean. When you travel to other countries with unsafe sanitation, avoid foods that are not cooked or peeled.
  • Avoid food that may have been touched by dirty hands.
  • Always wash diapers separately from other laundry.
  • Tell others who may have been exposed to the parasite (such as household members and day care contacts). They may need to be tested for the parasite.
  • Don't let children swim in public places while they have diarrhea.
  • Protect food from contact with dirty hands, bowel movements, flies, and unclean water.
  • When you are outdoors, particularly when camping or hiking, drink water only after it has been purified with boiling, proper filtration, or disinfectant tablets.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2012.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-02-01
Last reviewed: 2011-12-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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