Campers must take measures against giardia


June 15, 1993|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,Contributing Writers

Q: My family is planning to do a lot of camping and backpacking this summer. What should we do to avoid getting giardia infection from our drinking water?

A: Campers and backpackers should carry drinking water with them and avoid drinking from streams. Giardia lamblia, the most common human parasite in the United States, can be carried by domestic and wild animals and can contaminate lakes, rivers and streams.

Humans are usually infected when they drink water containing the organism.

Giardia is a protozoa (a tiny moving organism) that invades the intestinal tract and can cause a variety of symptoms including abdominal pain and cramps, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite and excessive gas.

Children infected with giardia tend to have more severe symptoms than adults.

The best way to avoid infection is to boil water. You need only to bring water to a full boil before drinking it.

Alternatively, chemically treating the water can suffice. Experts suggest that potential drinking water be treated with a 2 percent tincture of iodine solution: five drops of iodine added to one quart of clear water, which is then let stand for 30 minutes.

Many people think that chlorination tablets can safely treat stream or lake water for giardia. This is not true. In certain forms, giardia can survive chlorination, so this treatment alone is inadequate.

Many infected individuals have no symptoms at all. If you suspect that you are infected, however, a number of prescription medications are available that are effective against giardia infection.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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