What is giardiasis?
Giardiasis is an illness caused by a parasite (a tiny organism) called giardia. It causes diarrhoea which is often very smelly, causing cramping stomach ache and wind. The illness may last for several weeks; it then resolves slowly sometimes over several weeks. The incubation period (the time taken from swallowing the germs until the illness starts) is usually 7-10 days. However the duration of the illness can be variable and it may be chronic and recur.
It occurs world-wide but is particularly prevalent in the tropics. It is an important cause of traveller's diarrhoea.
Who is at risk?
Anybody can get giardiasis, but the illness can be more severe and prolonged in people with impaired immune systems. In the UK it is most common in children under 5 years old and young adults.
Many people have giardiasis (the disease caused by giardia) and show no symptoms - these are carriers of the infection. Others develop symptoms 1-2 weeks after ingesting the parasite. Symptoms include diarrhoea, often watery in the early stages of the illness, nausea (feeling sick), no appetite, abdominal pain and bloating.
How do I get giardiasis?
How can I avoid getting giardiasis?
The most effective way to stop the spread of giardiasis is to wash hands thoroughly. This means taking care to wash palms, back of the hands, between the fingers, the fingertips and under fingernails.
How to wash your hands
Remember germs can hide under watches, rings and bracelets and these should be removed.
It is just as important to dry your hands after washing them as damp hands can spread 1,000 times more germs than dry hands.
Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water and dry with a clean towel:
How do I treat giardiasis?
If you have diarrhoea then drink plenty of fluids. Giardiasis is one of the few stomach bugs where antibiotics help. The treatment is usually with a drug called metronidazole, which your GP can prescribe. It is very important that you do not drink alcohol while you are having this treatment.
Do I need to stay off work, school or nursery?
Yes, until you have been completely free from any symptoms for 48 hours. Children should not play with other children or attend school or nursery until they are fully recovered and have been symptom free for 48 hours. If you work as a food handler, with young children or in healthcare, you must inform your employer and / or seek advice from the Environmental Health Department.
What should I do if a member of my household has giardiasis?
Ensure that you and all household members wash their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap:
If you have concerns about your health, please contact your family doctor or NHS Direct on Tel: 111 or visit NHS Direct. If you would like to know more about giardiasis and its cause, spread and control, please contact Environmental Health Services.
Information provided by the Health Protection Agency (HPA).