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What is giardiasis?

Giardiasis is an infection of the upper small intestine caused by the parasite Giardia lamblia.

How does it occur?

A child may become infected:

  • when he or she eats food or drinks water that has been contaminated by human waste that contains Giardia lamblia
  • through person-to-person contact with household members who have the infection
  • if he or she stays in a day care center with children who are not toilet-trained.

What are the symptoms?

Often giardiasis does not have symptoms. Symptoms may not develop until 1 to 2 weeks after your child is exposed to the parasite. Symptoms may include:

  • mild to severe diarrhea
  • bowel movements that are bulky, greasy, frothy, and foul smelling
  • cramps in the upper abdomen
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea or vomiting.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child's health care provider will review your child's symptoms, examine him, and order a lab test of a sample of bowel movement.

How is it treated?

Your child's health care provider will prescribe an antibiotic medicine. 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 return. If your child has side effects from the medicine, contact your health care provider.

How long will it last?

Symptoms of giardiasis may last for 2 to 6 weeks.

How can I take care of my child?

For diarrhea, let your child's bowel rest by giving him only clear liquids such as oral rehydrating or electrolyte solutions, water, juice, tea, and bouillon. It is important that your child drink fluids often so that he does not become dehydrated. Your child may suck on Popsicles if he or she is too nauseated to drink fluids.

It is OK for the child to keep eating as long as it does not seem to worsen the diarrhea or stomach cramps. Foods that are easiest to digest are soft foods, such as bananas, cooked cereal, rice, plain noodles, gelatin, eggs, toast or bread with jelly, and applesauce. Your child can return to a normal diet after 2 or 3 days, but should avoid milk products and caffeine for a few days. For several days it is best to avoid fresh fruit (other than bananas), greasy or fatty foods such as cheeseburgers or bacon, highly seasoned or spicy foods, and most fresh vegetables. Cooked carrots, potatoes, and squash are fine.

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

If your child keeps having symptoms, gets worse, or gets new symptoms, tell your child's health care provider.

What can be done to prevent giardiasis?

  • Wash hands with soap and very warm water after going to the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after you change diapers or help children use the toilet.
  • Avoid unclean water supplies.
  • Avoid food and water that may be contaminated.
  • Wash towels and diapers separately from other laundry.
  • Tell others who may have been exposed to the parasites (such as household members, and day care contacts). They should be tested for the parasites.
  • Avoid foods that can't be cooked or peeled, and protect food from exposure to bowel movements, flies, and contaminated water.
  • When camping, drink water only after it has been purified with boiling, proper filtration, or disinfectant tablets.
Developed by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-10-05
Last reviewed: 2006-05-19
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.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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