Giardiasis – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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Giardiasis, or the beaver fever as it is commonly known, is a parasitic infection that affects the digestive system. Symptoms of giardiasis include diarrhea and severe abdominal discomfort, but some individuals display no symptoms.

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The parasite that causes giardiasis is a single-celled, microscopic organism known as Giardia lamblia. Giardiasis is the most frequent intestinal parasitic infection in the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2012, people reported 15,223 cases of the disease in the U.S. Even though this intestinal disease occurs all over the world, it is more prevalent in areas with poor sanitation.

It can affect 20 to 30% of the population in developing countries at any one time, and 100% in some places.

Symptoms of giardiasis

Not everyone with the disease shows any symptoms, but they can equally still spread the disease. Symptoms may manifest between the first to the third week after infection, and some may include;

  • A mild fever
  • Dehydration
  • Watery or soft stool
  • Fatigue
  • Foul Snelling gas
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Pain and cramps
  • Belching or foul breath

With proper medications, symptoms may improve working 2 to 6 weeks. It is important to stay hydrated as the disease may cause excess dehydration and it can become serious, especially in infants.

It’s better to drink water when trying to control dehydration.

Causes of giardiasis

There are two different types of giardia;

  1. The active form can be found in the gut of an infected animal or person.
  2. The inactive cyst form can remain inert for many months in the environment.

Parasites can leave the body of their host and this happens when an animal person has a bowel movement. Outside, they are able to form a hard protective layer and turn into a giardia cyst that can survive many months outside a host.

The heavy wind comes to pick up cysts from their dormant state and blow them into any direction. Infection happens when people drink water that has been contaminated with giardia cysts, and this mostly happens in countries that have poor sanitation.

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Risk factors

Contracting giardiasis can occur in the following ways;

  • Touching your mouth after coming in contact with surfaces where the parasites are present
  • The parasites can be contacted through water supplies, for instance, consuming untreated water, swimming or eating foods or fruits washed with contaminated water
  • Caring for someone with the disease
  • When you touch the anus of the person who has the parasites
  • Improper handwashing after bathroom breaks

Babies with giardiasis wearing diapers in a public pool can have the water contaminated. This increases the risk of infection for anyone who swims in the same pool.

Giardiasis, during the summer, especially in the United States, becomes more common, possibly because people spend more of their time outdoors and engage in more outdoor activities. This increases their chance of contracting the infection and wouldn’t notice the symptoms until they are home.

The risk of getting the disease from pets is very minimal, but animals commonly have a different type of giardiasis that doesn’t affect humans.


A stool sample can be collected by doctors from patients to test for giardia cysts. Sometimes, several samples may be requested, especially since cysts aren’t always expelled with every bathroom break.

Further tests may be required if the results do not show traces of giardiasis. Some of these tests may include endoscopy and probably a biopsy.

Treating giardiasis

Metronidazole (Flagyl) is a medication that is used to effectively treat giardiasis. Doctors would prescribe the drug and advise on usage.

Side effects of Metronidazole are rare, but they may include:

  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Dark urine

Patients would have to avoid taking alcohol during treatments as the drug may interfere with alcohol dehydrogenase. This is an enzyme that breaks down alcohol.

Other possible medications include;

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In the absence of treatment, giardiasis can become very severe, but the chances of this happening are rare. Infection can last for years, with repeated rounds of diarrhea, tiredness, and vitamin deficiencies.

People who recover from giardiasis without treatment may continue to shed the parasite. Nevertheless, this doesn’t always happen, but it depends on the patient’s immunity.

Children with giardiasis may experience malnutrition as well as complications connected with malnutrition, such as cognitive development and complications with growth.

Other complications of giardiasis include;

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Long-term gastrointestinal complications
  • Studies have also shown that it may lead to a higher risk of the following;
  • Muscular complications
  • Eye problems
  • Allergic symptoms like urticaria

Although some reports have connected the development of cancer to the infection of giardiasis, however, more research is required to confirm this.


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It is important that people boil or purify the water they want to drink, especially when the water is gotten from a well or an untreated source.

Giardiasis is widespread in South and Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, western parts of South America, Central America, Russia, Bulgaria, and Romania.

According to some statistics, about 200 million people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America display symptoms of Giardia, while many other people have no idea that they are hosts to the parasites since they don’t display any symptoms.

This is why it is critical for travelers to be aware of the signs of the infection and to take some precautionary measures;

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  • Drinking water: Be careful of waters in lakes and rivers. People should have their own water or a means of purifying their water when they want to go camping.
  • Food: Raw foods, as well as foods washed in contaminated water, should be avoided.
  • Hand-washing: Be sure to wash your hands after every bathroom use or diaper change. Don’t forget to also wash your hands before eating or handling food.
  • Brushing: Always use purified water when brushing your teeth.

Have you had any experiences with giardiasis infection? Have you ever had to treat giardiasis? If yes, share your experiences with us in the comment box. Thank you!

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Oluwafemi Michael
Oluwafemi Michael is an online Mental Health Therapist, Advocate for Mental Health Awareness, a programmer, and also a content creator from Edo state, Akoko-Edo LG.
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