by Diane Spicer
Giardia symptoms are unpleasant, and potentially life threatening if they debilitate you while on a backcountry hiking trip.
Once these symptoms hit you, you'll have to suffer through them until you can begin a treatment protocol.
Here's what you need to keep yourself out of trouble.
Giardia is the shorthand name for a microscopic trouble maker named Giardia intestinalis. You might also hear it called G. lamblia or G. duodenalis, depending on where you get your information.
This parasite with the clunky name lurks in surface water, and will reproduce itself in your intestines if you are unfortunate enough to swallow it.
How did it get into the lake or stream in the first place?
A mammal defecated in the water, and now you're the lucky owner of a new generation of Giardia.
For hikers, it's the critters which inhabit the habitat you're hiking through:
You can pick up giardia in any region of the world, so if you're planning a backpacking trip anywhere, you need to pay attention to your water purification methods.
And I say methods -plural - for a reason.
Don't rely on just one way to get clean hiking water.
Read up on backpacking water purification methods here.
Always have a backup plan, because staying hydrated is just that important.
And never tell yourself that cold water can't be contaminated.
These giardia parasites love, love, love cold water and will persist for many months in water that looks absolutely clear and clean.
The fancy way of saying that is "acute" symptoms, which are anything but cute:
Acute giardia symptoms set you up for dehydration, which in turn makes you dizzy, weak and unable to think straight.
Also, the pain and discomfort from gas, bloating and cramps will take your mind right off staying safe on the trail, leading to trouble.
The longer these symptoms continue, the more fat you will lose from your digestive tract (because it's going into those weird stools), and hence the less energy you have available for hiking.
These giardia symptoms can linger for a week or two, making a long backpacking trip or thru hike virtually impossible.
They take about a week to develop after you ingest the contaminated water, so it's tough to know exactly which water source was the problem.
Giardia might also play hide and seek: the symptoms go away and you think everything is back to normal but no such luck when they come roaring back.
Oddly, some people ingest the giardia parasite and have absolutely no symptoms!
Go figure :(
You can't go hiking without ingesting water to replace what you lose via breathing hard, perspiring, urinating and defecating.
That's just the way it is for those of us living in a human body.
But you can be smart about how you guarantee the safety of your hiking water.
If you haven't read the information about backpacking water purification and safety above, here are the links again:
Waterborne illnesses important to hikers
Backpacking water purification methods
And if you really want to dig into what the giardia parasite can do to your digestive system, read this!
Don't play fast and loose with your hiking water, because not only will it ruin your hiking plans, the parasite could stick around and cause you trouble again and again.
Waterborne Giardia Symptoms
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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