Giardia Infection (Giardiasis) in Children

Giardia infection (also called giardiasis) is an intestinal illness caused by the parasite Giardia. This parasite is found in food or water contaminated with stool from infected people or animals. Giardia infection is often passed in contaminated water. This most often happens when someone swallows water from a pool, lake, or stream.

Man helping boy and girl wash hands in sink.

What Are Common Symptoms of Giardia Infection?

The following symptoms can appear 1–3 weeks after infection:

  • Greasy stools (stools may float)

  • Diarrhea

  • Stomach cramps

  • Upset stomach or nausea

  • Gas

  • Dehydration

Your child can also be infected and have no symptoms at all.

How Is Giardia Infection Diagnosed?

Your child’s health care provider examines him or her. A stool sample is requested to check for the presence of Giardia. More than one stool sample may be needed.

How Is Giardia Infection Treated?

  • The illness can last 2–6 weeks.

  • Medication may be prescribed by your child’s health care provider. This clears the infection in most cases. Your child should take ALL of the medication, even if he or she starts feeling better.

  • Don’t give your child antidiarrheal medication unless told to by your child’s health care provider. It can make the illness last longer and decrease the body’s ability to get rid of Giardia.

  • Give your child plenty of water or a children’s electrolyte solution to drink. This helps prevent dehydration.

When to Call Your Child’s Health Care Provider

Call your child’s health care provider if he or she:

  • Has severe diarrhea that lasts longer than 2 days.

  • Shows signs of dehydration (very dark or little urine, excessive thirst, dry mouth, no tears when crying, or dizziness).

  • Has rapid and excessive weight loss.

  • Cries and can’t be consoled.

  • Seems very tired, slow-moving, or doesn’t respond.

How Can Giardia Infection Be Prevented?

To prevent your child from passing on a Giardia infection:

  • Clean your child’s bottom well when changing diapers. Afterward, wash your hands with soap and water. Do the same for your child.

  • Keep your child home from daycare or school until cleared by your healthcare provider.

To lessen the chances of a Giardia infection in the future:

  • Don’t swallow or drink water from pools, lakes, streams, or rivers. When camping, or traveling outside the country, avoid drinking or cooking with water unless you know it’s safe. If needed, boil water for at least 1 minute(s) before using it. Or, bring a portable water filter specially made to remove parasites such as Giardia.

  • If you drink well water, have it tested once a year for germs including Giardia.

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water (for 20 seconds and rub them together) often. Do this before preparing meals or eating food, after going to the bathroom, cleaning your nose, sneezing, or coughing. Use disposable gloves and wash your hands after caring for cuts or wounds, touching garbage, or handling pets (their food, treats, or waste). Teach your child to do the same.

  • Use a food thermometer when cooking. Cook poultry to at least 165°F. Cook pork, beef, and lamb cuts to at least 145°F. Cook ground meats to at least 160°F.

  • Wash or peel produce before eating.


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