What is it?
Giardiasis (sometimes known as Giardia) is a parasitic infection of the bowel. It is, in fact, one of the most common water-borne illnesses in the world and while it is far more prevalent in developing countries where the water supply is not safe, it is still a common illness in Australia among children and their parents.
What causes it?
Giardiasis caused by a parasite called Giardia Lamblia. This parasite can live in the bowels of humans (and many animals) and the infection is spread by coming into contact with anything which has been contaminated with giardia-infected faeces. This could be direct contact such as handling a soiled nappy, or indirect contact such as drinking contaminated water or eating food washed in contaminated water. The infection can also be spread via swimming pools, contaminated clothes or toys, child-to-child contact or by simply touching any other item or surface that has been contaminated.
What are the symptoms?
While not everyone will show signs of giardiasis, some common symptoms to be aware of are:
- tummy pain
- greasy or watery poo, often with a foul smell
- loss of appetite
- occasionally vomiting
The symptoms typically take around seven to 10 days to develop and can last for anything from a few days up to six weeks. Ensure that you keep a close watch on your child for any signs of dehydration (see our diarrhoea factsheet for further information).
What are the treatments?
If you suspect giardiasis, you should make an appointment with your child’s doctor and request a stool (faeces) sample to be tested. Your doctor may request more than one sample as the giardia parasite is not continuously present in every stool.
If your child is diagnosed with giardiasis, your doctor will discuss potential treatments with you. Often an antibiotic will be prescribed to clear the parasite more quickly; your child will get better without antibiotics but it will take longer.
You should keep your child home from childcare or school until their symptoms have stopped and do not let them use a swimming pool or share a bath or towel with siblings until at least one week after their symptoms have stopped.
Practicing good hygiene, particularly regular hand washing, and encouraging your children to do the same will help prevent the spread of giardiasis to the rest of your family.
WA State Department of Health – Factsheet