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What is Giardia?
May 25, 1999

I had been having really bad pains in my stomach and have had really bad diarrhea. I thought i had food poisoning. I went to the doctor to find out what was wrong. They did tests on me and found out i have this thing called giardia. When I found this out, I asked the guy i've been having sex with and he told me he had it too. Can you get this by having sex? We have had unprotected anal sex and oral sex and i rimmed him too. Can you get this through sex?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question.

Giardia is a parasitic infection. This parasite is found in the feces of humans, and possibly beavers and other wild and domestic animals. This infection is spread in several different ways (both non-sexual and sexual), all of which involve the oral-fecal route.

1) Non-sexual transmission. This is the most common type of transmission. You can become infected by drinking or ingesting surface water from lakes, rivers, and streams which are contaminated with feces. Since the feces of beavers, wild animals, and humans can get into lakes, rivers, and streams, Giardia can pose a risk for swimmers and people going camping. Campers should always boil all water coming from lakes, rivers, and streams, before using this water for drinking and cooking.

Giardia can also be transmitted person-to-person in institutions and daycare centers. This can occur if hands are not properly washed when they get contaminated with feces. Giardia can also be transmitted by food which has been contaminated with feces. Anyone working in daycare centers, other institutions, and food handlers, should always wash their hands well, when their hands become contaminated with feces (which includes washing your hands after you go to the bathroom).

2) Sexual transmission. Giardia is not transmitted through kissing, intercourse, or oral sex. However Giardia can be transmitted by giving oral-anal sex (rimming) to your partner. If you were rimming your partner (with potential exposure to feces), and they were infected, there is a good chance that this is how you became infected.

The symptoms of Giardia can include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and fatigue. But there are many people who have Giardia yet they have no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, they generally begin 3-25 days after infection, and sometimes longer. The average period of time from infection to the start of symptoms is 7-10 days. Whether a person is showing symptoms or not, they are still infectious to others. Giardia can be more severe in people with AIDS and other diseases of the immune system. Since the symptoms of this infection are similar to those of other illnesses, and since not all people have these symptoms, only lab tests can determine whether a person is infected or not. Giardia is most often diagnosed by a series of stool (fecal) exams.

Giardia is curable with prescription medications. You should not allow anyone to give you oral-anal sex until you have completed your medications. In addition, everyone should always practice good hygiene, to prevent the transmission of this and other fecal infections to other people.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).



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