Giardiasis

My mother was the first one to suggest that I might have Giardia. Yael was describing my illness to her on Wednesday and she just immediately spat out, “Giardia. He has Giardia.” She is an intuitive, armchair doctor, and always thinks she can diagnose things over the phone. So, initially, I refused to even consider the possibility that she was right.

But then, I decided at least to check into it. I did some reading. The more I looked at the reports, the clearer it became that I did indeed have Giardia. I will spare you my own detailed narrative of the symptoms of my dis-ease of the bowels. Instead, if you read the overview of Giardia Symptoms on WebMD, you’ll get an exact description of what happened to me. Diarrhea. Smelly and gross belching and gas. Extreme fatigue. Cramps. Symptoms coming and going. An extended period of symptoms. Definitely Giardia. I also had anorexia, i.e. loss of appetite. But as it happens this is a good thing for someone with the disease, about which, more in a moment (see below).

So, Giardia, yes. But where would I have gotten it? Symptoms began on Saturday the 13th. Ten days before that, I finished a river trip on the Deschutes. It’s possible that, ahem, at the end of the bleary second night, I might have brushed my teeth with the water from the handwashing bucket. I can’t be sure. Or there was my surf session on June 10th; that day the rain was so extreme that Smuggler Cove may have been flooded with contaminated with millions of gallons of giardia infested freshwater. And the surf was rough. I definitely swallowed water out there that day. It might have been out there. Other than these occasions, I couldn’t think of when or where I could have gotten this water borne fecal parasite.

Giardia infesting the intestine of a gerbil

Wherever I got it, it really sucked! On Tuesday, my short and shitty surf session was followed by a day of moping around, nursing a body that felt like it was falling apart. Then, on Wednesday and Thursday, I felt slightly better because of my fasting (see below), but I still didn’t feel like working out, or surfing, that’s for sure. Luckily the weather and surf were no good anyway.

Giardia is a little microorganism that infests the upper GI tract.

It connects itself to the mucous membranes of the small intestines and covers them… and then it blocks absorbtion of nutrients. Most people have difficulty digesting fats while infected with Giardia (a problem for those of us who follow high-fat diets!) and the fats are expelled with the feces, making it extra stinky. Some people also become lactose intolerant. I certainly seemed to. A second terrible outbreak of crams and diarrhea occurred on Thursday, after I had quite a bit of dairy on Wednesday night. If I had only been eating strictly paleo, Thursday would have been less painful!

The Life Cycle of Giardia (image from WikiMedia)

Before I started the meds, I found that fasting alleviated my symptoms. I ate basically only one, low-fat, meal per day on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday this week. Friday, where I ate two meals, a high-fat breakfast and a dinner, I had … um … trouble all afternoon. But on the other days, where I more or less fasted, having only a small amount of low fat fruit and protein early in the day, and a low fat, low carb dinner, I had much fewer symptoms. Fatigue was not as much of a problem, diarrhea stopped. This is not surprising, if you think about it. Instead of trying and failing to get energy from the digestive tract through eating, I was getting energy from stored sources (mainly fat) by fasting. Let me tell you: if you ever have Giardia, and you have to get anything done and you want to start feeling better, STOP EATING. Just drink water and maybe some black coffee.

Luckily for me, I only had to suffer a few days of symptoms before my parents arrived. My dad, a physician, had consulted with some infectious diseases doctors and brought me a bottle of Flagil. This stuff is toxic. I’d rather not take it. But I’d rather not suffer from Giardia, either.

On Friday evening, after beginning a course of treatment of Flagil, I started to feel better. Symptoms were more or less under control by Saturday evening. I remain on a lower-fat, low-carb, no-dairy, lower calorie regime, although it would appear that everything is better now.


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