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|(PLEASE NOTE: We are NOT veterinarians!! However, we want to share our personal research and experiences regarding these important feline health issues with other cat-lovers!! We will be updating this page often!! Send us your ideas and any comments!!)|
What is "Giardiasis"?? Giardiasis is one of the most frequent occurring water-borne diseases in the United States, and is caused by a one-celled parasite called "Giardia lamblia". This disease is characterized by intestinal symptoms that can last from a week to several months or more. Symptoms can include: diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloating, flatulence, fatigue, weight loss, and may include, in the chronic phase, loose stools, burping, and increased abdominal gassiness and cramping. Lactose (or milk products) intolerance may become a problem for some people with Giardiasis either developing coincidentally with the disease, or be aggravated by it. Giardiasis is a world-wide parasite, and the ease with which this parasite can be passed from one warm-blooded mammal to another makes it a public health hazard, capable of infecting almost every species of animal, including humans.
How do you know if you or any of your animals have Giardiasis?? There is a fairly recent, accurate test for this disease that costs about $30.00 and is performed on the stool sample. Until this test was developed, it was almost impossible to consistently diagnose this disease as it's very difficult to detect in the intestinal tract.
What are the treatments?? There are 3 drugs available in the United States to treat Giardiasis: quinacrine (Atabrine), metronidazole (Flagyl) and furazolidone (Furoxone). These are all prescription drugs, and must be authorized by a veterinarian for animal use. There have been cases reported of strains of Giardia that are resistant to these medications. There is a Giardia vaccine available; it seems to be most helpful in preventing felines with chronic bouts with Giardiasis from shedding the cysts, and may help keep the condition from spreading to other animals, as well as reduce the severity of the outbreaks and symptoms in the vaccinated cat. Many breeders report good success treating this parasite with a safe, liquid worming medication called Panacur, given at a higher dose once daily for 5 to 10 days. All medications, including herbal remedies (such as aloe vera), may have potentially serious side effects and should only be used with the knowledge and approval of your veterinarian.
How do you get Giardiasis?? Most people and animals contract Giardiasis from contaminated drinking water specifically, drinking water contaminated by feces. The people at high risk for contracting this disease are: 1) people in cities where the drinking water originates from streams or rivers, and/or whose water treatment process does not include filtration or has ineffective filtration; 2) people who hike or spend a lot of time camping outdoors; 3) people who travel internationally (i.e., "Montezuma's Revenge!"); 4) children who attend day care centers, the day care staff, and the parents/families of these children, due primarily to contact with dirty diapers, and the ease with which the disease spreads; 5) homosexual men, due to their sexual practices.
Why is Giardiasis considered potentially so serious?? There are two forms of this parasite; the "trophozoite" and the "cyst" and both of these are much larger than bacteria. Trophozoites live in the upper small intestine, where they attach to the intestinal wall by means of a disc-shaped suction pad on their ventral surface. They actively feed and reproduce at this location. During its life-span, the Trophozoite releases its suction grip and floats in the fecal stream of its host through the intestine, undergoing a transformation into an egg-like structure called a cyst. The cyst has a very thick exterior wall which protects it against the harsh elements it will encounter outside the body of its host. It is this cyst form of the parasite that is infectious for other people AND animals. Most people and animals become infected by either hand-to-mouth transfer of cysts or by drinking feces-contaminated water. After the cyst is swallowed, the trophozoite is liberated by the stomach acid in the host and once again becomes established in the small intestine.
I've heard about water-borne outbreaks how does this happen?? In order for there to be a water-borne epidemic of Giardiasis, there has to be two major circumstances present: there must be Giardia cysts in untreated source water AND the water purification process must either fail to kill OR remove the Giardia cysts from the water.
How do I protect myself and my family and animals from Giardiasis?? The ideal prevention of water-borne Giardiasis is to boil your water it is proven that Giardia cysts are killed instantly by boiling water; yet can live in cold water for at least 2 months! Water filtration is a very complex process, and filter operation or maintenance problems in such systems may not be detected until there is an outbreak of Giardia recognized in the community. It is even more complicated due to the fact that when you have a filter small enough to keep out the Giardia cysts (6 to 9 micrometers x 8 to 12 micrometers), the pores of the filters tend to clog easily, and it may pose a significant health hazard to clean and/or replace the filter element. According to recent studies, only the "First Need" and "Katadyn" filters removed 100% of the Giardia cysts. Chlorine concentrations in the 0.1 mg. per liter to 0.5 mg. per liter range are largely ineffective against Giardia. Much more study needs to be done to provide safe and effective water treatment programs in all parts of the world.
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