What is Giardia in Kids?
Giardia in kids is an illness caused by the parasite, giardia intestinalis. In fact, it is one of the main causes of diarrhea in the U.S.
A parasite typically uses other organisms and feeds off them in order to survive. In the case of Giardia, the parasite lives in the intestines and is eventually excreted through a person’s stool. In this article, we will dive further into Giardia causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention, specifically relating to kids.
Understanding Giardia in Kids
Giardia is easily contracted through person-to-person contact, such as at daycare. It can also be transmitted through individuals who have failed to properly wash their hands after the bathroom or after changing diapers.
Usually, kids contract Giardia via one of the following ways:
- Touching an object, such as a toy or other surface, contaminated with Giardia and swallowing it afterwards.
- Drinking water contaminated with Giardia, such as through an untreated water source.
- Swallowing water while swimming in a Giardia-contaminated water source.
- Consuming food items that contain Giardia.
- Close contact with another person who has Giardia.
Giardia is also a fairly resistant parasite. It can, surprisingly, live longer than two months in cold water and even survive through chlorine used to purify water.
What Are the Symptoms?
Surprisingly, most children who have giardia do not have any symptoms. However, symptoms of Giardia in kids may include:
- Diarrhea that may alternate between soft and greasy stools
- Abdominal cramps
- Weight loss
- Occasionally, a low-grade fever
These symptoms typically appear two to three weeks after exposure and may last up to two or six weeks. However, as aforementioned, your child can have Giardia without presenting any symptoms.
If your child is experiencing symptoms similar to what is described above, it may be best to visit your family doctor. From there, your doctor will request a stool sample to diagnose Giardia.
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Usually, if your child does not have symptoms, treatment is not necessary. Further, a lot of individuals with Giardia tend to get better on their own within a matter of weeks.
Yet, if your symptoms are severe or dehydration from watery stools is a concern, certain medications may be prescribed. These medications effectively kill the parasite. However, they may come with various side effects, which your doctor or pharmacist will explain.
For kids, medication is often in liquid form and taken for five to seven days. For many of these medications, it is crucial that you give the medicine each day and on a set schedule, as well as complete the entire round of medication, to ensure a full recovery.
In any case, as a parent, you want to make sure your child drinks plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for Giardia. However, there are several ways you can reduce your child’s risk and potentially prevent it. For instance, health and safety regarding food and personal hygiene is key in preventing parasites.
In addition, you can protect your family and reduce the spread of infection by:
- Drinking from only water supplies that are given the green light by government and health departments.
- Washing your hands regularly and teaching your children about regular hand washing.
- Bringing water from home for camping or hiking adventures.
- Avoiding food that could be contaminated.
- Thoroughly washing fruits and veggies before cooking or eating them.
- Ensuring everyone in your household washes their hands, especially if someone has Giardia.
- Disinfecting and cleaning any toys that may go in your child’s mouth.
- Washing your own hands after changing a diaper.
- Checking with your child care provider as to what their hand washing policy and cleaning policy entails.
Giardia is very treatable in the developed world. If your child is experiencing diarrhea or any of the symptoms above, it is important to visit your family doctor. Complications may arise, especially in children, including dehydration or malnutrition.
Dehydration happens when the body does not have enough water. The body itself is 60% water. Water is required for all functions in the human body. With regular bouts of diarrhea, dehydration can quickly become a problem.
Malnutrition may result as the Giardia parasite thrives. It may prevent the absorption of certain nutrients, specifically carbs and fats. This can lead to general fatigue, as well as nutrient deficiencies, especially if it is not addressed early on.
Knowledge is the First Step Toward Prevention
Knowing the signs and symptoms of Giardia in kids and what to do can help you determine if your child has it or not. Further, continual use of preventative methods can help not only protect your family from Giardia, but also from many other illnesses or diseases.
All in all, when treated properly, Giardia is very easily curable. With the anti-parasitic medication, your child will feel back to normal within a week, effectively erasing the worry of Giardia spreading amongst your household.