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Giardia and Adoption from Vietnam

By Allison Martin

What is Giardia?

Giardia (Giardia lambia) is a waterborn protozoan cyst. After ingestion, the cyst-shell is shed and the organism infect the intestines. Giardia cysts occur in all types of fresh waters, especially (but not limited to) waters polluted by waste. They are resistant to disinfection agents such as chlorine and traditional waste water treatment methods. Both animals and people can be infected and can spread the cysts.

Giardia has been known to occur in children adopted from some areas of Vietnam.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloating, flatulence, malaise, nausea, and loss of appetite. Stools can be watery and profuse and/or foul-smelling. Periods of diarrhea may alternate with constipation and normal stools. Children may experience weight lose or even "failure to thrive" with long term infection.

Symptoms are variable and not everyone who has been effected experiences them. The parasite shows up about 1-2 weeks after ingestion and may last as long as 6 months.

What should I do?

Giardia appears to be one of the more commonly occuring parasitic infections of children adopted from Vietnam. Every child adopted from Asia should have a stool sample specifically for giardia as part of their initial health screening. You may wish to do this more than once, as giardia is not always present or easy to detect, especially if your child has some of the symptoms.

How is it treated?

Giardia is usually treated with an antibiotic called Flagyl. I have heard of parents needed to repeat the treatment more than once, although this was not our personal experience.

Where can I get more information?

Talk with your pediatrician. For unusual circumstances, you may also wish to consult with a international adoption medical specialist (see International Adoption Medical Clinics).

See our Comeunity website for more information on Giardia and other parasites.

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