Giardia lambia is a nasty little one-celled parasite that causes diarrhea and abdominal problems in children and adults. It is extremely prevalent in day care centers, church nurseries, or wherever small children congregate. It is safe to assume that any child in daycare or parent of a diaper-age child in daycare is at risk for this infection.

Giardia causes its unpleasant effects on the body not by invading the tissues, but simply by being in the way. It multiplies to the point where it sort of paves the lining of the intestine and blocks normal digestion. This causes only partially digested food to get lower in the digestive tract than it should, causing diarrhea.

The symptoms are usually a particularly foul or fishy-smelling diarrhea which lasts longer than the usual intestinal virus. Cramping may be a feature of the diarrhea as well. Older children or adults with Giardia infections may have only abdominal pain without diarrhea.

The treatment is usually metronidazole (Flagyl¬) crushed up from tablets and made into a suspension by the pharmacist. It works well but really tastes pretty bad. The best prevention is strict handwashing after handling diapers.

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