Giardia -- an often hidden illness

Giardia is a not so friendly amigo that might accompany you and/or your children home from Colombia.

What is Giardia?

Giardia, also known as Giardia lamblia, is a single celled, flagalated protozoa, which lives in the small intestine. In other words, a parasite and not a bacterial or viral infection.

The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene had a report in 2005 from Sweden which showed an incidence of 8,110 cases per 100,000 adopted children. International Adoption Clinics in the U.S. have found between 10-20% of all internationally adopted children suffer from Giardia.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, weight loss, belly bloating, fatigue, very stinky loose stools, and flatulence. However, these symptoms typically only last 2-6 weeks. If an infection has been around for a while, it may be asymptomatic. This is why Giardia is often the silent problem in internationally adopted children.

This was what happened in our case. While our son's medical history showed a low growth rate, he did not have vomiting or diarrhea. He did have a pot belly, but then again so do a lot of toddlers, so we did not suspect giardia or any other parasites. However, our pediatrician, born and raised in India, was suspicious and ordered a test. Oops! Positive for giardia! After our experience, I mentioned it to a friend who also told me that her asymptomatic Colombian daughter had tested positive for Giardia.

The Center for Adoption Medicine makes the following recommendations, "To diagnose giardia and other intestinal parasites, we recommend submitting 3 stool samples collected 2-3 days apart (preserved promptly after passage in a polyvinyl alcohol kit) for ova and parasite (O&P) examination, and one fresh (<1hr> old) sample for Giardia antigen."

Additionally, because the parasite is easily spread, the Center recommends that you be very vigilant. It suggests, "...wash hands scrupulously after diaper changes, toilette, and before meals/food prep until giardia is ruled out, and don't have new arrivals share baths with other children at first."

Unfortunately, because we did not know about our son's issue with giardia, we had both our boys sharing a bath in Colombia. We went swimming together. And well, to make a long story short, everyone in our family came home sick with giardia. Try being sick as a dog -- nausea, vomiting with uncontrollable diarrhea -- on a 8 hour flight with a 2 year old and a 5 year old. NOT RECOMMENDED! So, be careful!

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* Photo by AJC1


Donna said…
My youngest doesn't seem to be growing much. She will be 4 in June and I bet she is still under 30 pounds and 34 inches. We have an appointment at the end of the month and I am going to suggest she get tested again for this.


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