What Are the Causes of Giardiasis?
Giardiasis is an intestinal illness caused by exposure to the giardia parasite. The parasite can be found throughout the world and in every region of the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Giardiasis isn’t usually a serious infection in healthy people, but can be more severe in young children.
Giardia intestinalis, a microscopic parasite, causes the diarrhea and intestinal discomfort common in giardiasis. Giardia intestinalis is found in food, water or soil that has become contaminated from the feces of infected people or animals. When you are infected by these parasites, they find their way to your intestine and are then passed in your feces. After the parasites leave your body, they can survive for several months and can infect other people who come in contact with them.
In addition to diarrhea and cramping, people who have giardiasis also experience bloating, fatigue, gas, weight loss, dehydration, nausea and greasy, soft stools that float. The illness typically lasts two to six weeks, but it can become a chronic condition in some people and last for months, even years. Temporary lactose intolerance, characterized by difficulty digesting milk and dairy products, can develop in some infected people and might become a long-lasting problem in some cases. Some people become infected with giardia intestinalis and never become ill, but are still able to transmit the parasites through their feces.
Giardiasis From Water Sources
Giardia parasites can be found where there is water. Contaminated water has been found in streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, spas, groundwater, swimming pools and water parks. Infected animals can contaminate the water, as can children who aren’t toilet-trained and people with diarrhea who enter spas, pools or lakes. Swallowing contaminated water, whether while swimming in a lake or drinking from a faucet, can result in giardiasis.
Giardiasis From Food
Although infection from contaminated water is the most common way to contract giardiasis, you can also get it from tainted food. Rinsing food in contaminated water or the failure of an infected food handler to wash her hands after using the toilet can result in giardiasis for people eating the food. Thoroughly cooking food destroys the parasites, but you can still get the disease if the handler touches food that is served raw, such as green salads.
Other Transmission Methods
If you have a young child with giardiasis, you can catch the illness by handling diapers and not washing your hands thoroughly. If even the smallest amount of feces remains on your hand and you then touch your hand to your mouth, giardia intestinalis can enter your digestive system. You can also catch the illness if you engage in anal sex with an infected person.