Montezuma’s Revenge on Steroids. Causes- Giardia is a parasite that resides in the deep dark bowels of both humans and animals. This is probably one of the most common water born illness that people in the outdoors can acquire. People in the backcountry typically get it from water that is contaminated by feces (poop) from both humans and animals that ultimately ends up in the water supply. It can also be present in the soil, so you can get it from several sources. Unfortunately, even in pristine environments Giardia is a risk.
Symptoms- Diarrhea, tent clearing flatulence (gas), abdominal bloating, cramps and pain. Nausea, vomiting and fever may also be present. Symptoms typically develop 1-2 weeks after ingestion and can last up to six weeks.
Treatment- The best treatment is not getting the problem in the first place. That means treating all your drinking water with a water purifier or iodine. Try not to swallow river water while you are upside down in your kayak. Make sure you and everybody in your party wash their hands religiously after they have a bowel movement or urinate. In general, wash your hands compulsively while in the backcountry. Use liquid hand sanitizers, you know the brands. You can wait things out and the problem should resolve itself. If that does not sound good then go see your doctor. There are antibiotics you can take to solve the problem but you will need to see your doctor to get them. There is no evidence that I am aware of that alternative therapies will help.
Diagnosis- Stool analysis is the only way to definitely diagnose your problem. There are many other critters swimming around in our rivers and lakes that can cause similar symptoms. Therefore, if your problems are persistent a doctor should check you out.
Caveat for the day- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Have you ever heard that before? Think about what you are putting in your mouth and where your hands have been. If you are in a third world country or places where the water supply is suspect, be careful. You can get nailed unexpectedly by brushing your teeth with contaminated water, drinking things with contaminated ice cubes or having close contact with adults or children who already have Giardia. Remember poop is where most of these problems come from, so be cautious when you are in contact with feces.