My Child Has... Article

My Child Has...



What is giardiasis?

Giardiasis is an infection of the intestine caused by a parasite called Giardia.

How does it occur?

A child may become infected if:

  • he or she eats food or drinks water that has had contact with human or animal waste
  • through person-to-person contact with household members who have the infection (contact with Giardia due to contamination of household items such as bathroom fixtures or due to inadequate handwashing)
  • he or she stays in a day care center with children who are infected and who are in diapers or not toilet-trained

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may not start until 1 to 2 weeks after your child is exposed to the parasite. Symptoms may include:

  • mild to severe diarrhea
  • bowel movements that are bulky, greasy, frothy, and foul smelling
  • stomach cramps
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea or vomiting.

Some children with giardiasis do not have any symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will review your child's symptoms, examine him, and test a sample of bowel movement.

How is it treated?

Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic. Your child should take all of the medicine as prescribed. If your child stops taking the medicine when the symptoms are gone but before the parasite is gone from the body, the infection may come back. If your child has side effects from the medicine, contact your healthcare provider.

Your child may not need an antibiotic if he or she is not having symptoms. However, taking antibiotics can help prevent spreading the disease to others, for example, in a day care center.

How long will it last?

Symptoms of giardiasis may last for 2 to 6 weeks. Sometimes it lasts longer.

How can I take care of my child?

For diarrhea, let your child's bowel rest by giving him only clear liquids. Clear liquids include oral rehydrating or electrolyte solutions, water, juice, tea, and bouillon. It is important that your child drink fluids often so that he does not become dehydrated. Your child may suck on Popsicles if he or she is too nauseated to drink fluids.

It is OK for the child to keep eating as long as it does not seem to worsen the diarrhea or stomach cramps. Foods that are easiest to digest are soft foods, such as bananas, cooked cereal, rice, plain noodles, gelatin, eggs, toast or bread with jelly, and applesauce. Your child can return to a normal diet after 2 or 3 days, but should avoid milk products and caffeine for a few days. For several days it is best to avoid fresh fruit (other than bananas), greasy or fatty foods such as cheeseburgers or bacon, highly seasoned or spicy foods, and most fresh vegetables. Cooked carrots, potatoes, and squash are fine. If eating seems to worsen the diarrhea, go back to clear liquids for a few hours.

If your child has cramps or stomach pain, it may help to put a hot water bottle or electric heating pad on his or her stomach. Cover the hot water bottle with a towel or set the heating pad at low to prevent burns.

Be cautious about giving your child nonprescription antidiarrheal medicines such as Kaopectate or Imodium or the prescription medicine Lomotil. These medicines can actually make the illness more severe, especially if the diarrhea is bloody. Check with your healthcare provider before you give your child any medicine for diarrhea.

Remember that giardiasis is very contagious.

If your child keeps having symptoms, gets worse, or gets new symptoms, tell your child's healthcare provider.

What can be done to prevent giardiasis?

  • Wash hands with soap and very warm water after going to the bathroom and before eating or handling food.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after you change diapers or help children use the toilet.
  • Avoid unclean water supplies, including ice cubes made from unclean water.
  • Avoid food and water that may be contaminated.
  • Don't let children swim in public places while they have diarrhea.
  • Wash towels and diapers separately from other laundry.
  • Tell others who may have been exposed to the parasite (such as household members, and day care contacts). They should be tested for the parasite.
  • When your child is outdoors, especially when camping or hiking, he or she should drink water only after it has been purified. This can be done by using proper filters, disinfectant tablets, or by boiling the water.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-01-27
Last reviewed: 2010-01-21

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

Copyright © 1996-2016 The Children's Mercy Hospital