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Thread: Giardia

  1. #1

    Default Giardia

    Can anyone point me to any publicly available studies concerning the prevalence of Giardia in the water sources that the AT crosses, particularly in NC, TN and GA?

    I have heard several locals/old timers say that if it runs out of a pipe (a spring presumably) then they don't treat it, others say anything out of GS National Park should be treated, a lot of folks say treat all water that doesn't run from a faucet or hose.

    I would like to know if any real, current science exists to back up claims of Giardia.

    Thanks.

    PapaG

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    it's rare on the AT. i never treat or filter anything and never get sick

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    this is one of those things no one will agree on. its all opinion cause no one is out there testing every stream on a regular basis. best you can do is decide how much risk you're willing to take and drink up. and whos to say who is right? i think most peoples individual judgement is enough to keep them safe. come to think of it, ive never seen a single post on WB regarding someone actually getting crypto or giardia, etc. not saying it hasnt happened, but personally i think its a real danger but at the same time its all much ado about nuthin.
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    Post Problem is

    There is no way to scientifically determine the prevalence of giardia in the thousands of water sources along the A.T. other than to measure each one, and do so on an almost weekly (if not daily) basis. A stream could be 100% safe one hour and crammed with infectious microbes the next -- mainly because bears (and deer and beavers and rodents and rabbits) do NOT use flush toilets in the woods.

    Another problem is that some people will get ghastly ill by drinking water with just ten cysts; others can drink highly contaminated water without any effect. So the question, "Is there giardia?" is not as useful a question as, "Is there enough giardia to make me sick?"

    The only (reasonably) scientific study that can be done is the prevalence of human infections. Here's one such study, listing infections per population by state:

    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5401a2.htm
    (look at Table 1).

    It's impossible to know how many of these infections are the result of drinking contaminated water in the wild -- most likely the thousands of cases in New York City were the result of other transmission processes.

    Which water to treat, and how to do so, is a subject of ongoing and vigorous debate on these boards.

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    I once read a book by a man who sent huge surveys to a large number of AT thru-hikers and he had statistics on everything you can imagine. I don't remember the name of the book, but I do remember this. He asked how people treated their water and the frequency with which they treated their water. In another section of the survey he asked about the frequency of digestive problems. To make a long story short, there was NO correlation because how much or how people treated their water and digestive distress (shall we say). He concluded that almost all giardia-like symptoms were not caused by untreated water, but was caused by eating food (and sharing food) without washing hands.
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    I am of the opinion that you're more likely to get Giardia from eating out of someone's food bag than from drinking the water. Fear the words- "Hey, want some GORP?"

  7. #7

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    LOL! This happened to me at Trail Days. I thru hiker was trying to pass off his huge bag or GORP. Said he was tired of eating it and asked me if I wanted it. I politely declined.
    Some people take the straight and narrow. Others the road less traveled. I just cut through the woods.

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    Along the lines of what others have said, it really is almost impossible to know if a source is safe due to a number of always changing factors. It however is more commonly found in higher concentrations in larger streams/brooks that are fed by lots of smaller tributaries, and immediately following rain. Lakes/ponds/swamps/marshy area tend to have a higher concentration of Giardia than a flowing water source, but this is not always the case. Giardia is spread from infected feces of both humans and animals alike. And after a rain the potential for fecal matter to be washed into a water source is much higher than if there has not been a substantial rain in several days.

    It can also take up to three weeks to actually get sick(1-3 week incubation period), and tracking down where you originally injested the parasite can be very difficult.
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    I remember hearing about such a study (negative results) in the Sierra Nevada, but nothing like it on the AT.

    It sounds like it's difficult and expensive to find giardia cysts in a natural water source.

    I also remember seeing the hiker survey showing no correlation between water treatment and incidence of illness. I participated in a different survey, but never saw the results of that one. I treated only pasture water and pond water (on several long hikes so far) and didn't get sick.

    At an AT shelter in CT, I saw a very filthy (said he hadn't bathed since PA), very sick (complaining of diarrhea) hiker approach a group of friends and there were handshakes all around. I bet the friends blamed the water if they got sick later on. As many have said, evidence shows that basic hygiene and food safety are at least as important as water treatment in staying healthy on the trail.
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    Quote Originally Posted by garlic08 View Post
    At an AT shelter in CT, I saw a very filthy (said he hadn't bathed since PA), very sick (complaining of diarrhea) hiker approach a group of friends and there were handshakes all around. I bet the friends blamed the water if they got sick later on. As many have said, evidence shows that basic hygiene and food safety are at least as important as water treatment in staying healthy on the trail.
    I prefer the elbow bump and reluctantly shake hands in general. I must have the Howard Hughes gene.
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  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lone Wolf View Post
    it's rare on the AT. i never treat or filter anything and never get sick
    Not physically, at least -

    Giardia is a good excuse for taking a few zero days.

    As a section hiker I had to suffer with having it at home.
    Last edited by Tinker; 12-07-2011 at 18:12.
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  12. #12

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    Oh, btw: I got it off the AT in the White Mts. along the Pemigewassett river at one of the overused camps there back in the 1980s.
    As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn back from his way and live. Ezekiel 33:11
    Did Adam and Eve rest on the first Sabbath? Scripture only says that God did. Are we thinking yet?

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    I read that a survey done a couple yrs ago of thur hikers showed that about 11% did no water treatment. I rarely treat moving water unless it is around pastures.
    JUST A THOUGHT, I grew up in NC mountains and I drunk wayter wherever I found it. I never lived where I had city treated water. Could that make person least likely to get sick?

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spokes View Post
    I am of the opinion that you're more likely to get Giardia from eating out of someone's food bag than from drinking the water. Fear the words- "Hey, want some GORP?"
    That would more likely be fecal coliform bacteria.

    Same symptoms.
    As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn back from his way and live. Ezekiel 33:11
    Did Adam and Eve rest on the first Sabbath? Scripture only says that God did. Are we thinking yet?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tinker View Post
    That would more likely be fecal coliform bacteria.

    Same symptoms.
    Perhaps. From the CDC:

    "Giardia is found on surfaces or in soil, food, or water that has been contaminated with feces (poop) from infected humans or animals"

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by mountainman View Post
    I read that a survey done a couple yrs ago of thur hikers showed that about 11% did no water treatment. I rarely treat moving water unless it is around pastures.
    JUST A THOUGHT, I grew up in NC mountains and I drunk wayter wherever I found it. I never lived where I had city treated water. Could that make person least likely to get sick?
    I don't know whether you can get immune to Giardia. It's not likely. I, as a young boy, used to have a fort in the woods at the edge of a cow pasture. The stream flowed right through the pasture. We didn't know any better so we drank right out of it. I didn't get sick any more frequently or experience any worse symptoms than before or after we used that stream.

    One of the articles I read about Giardia and Cryptosporidia stated that, since the cysts are heavier than water, it's a good idea to get your water from a still pool in a stream rather than from the part of the stream with a current.
    It made sense to me so I try to follow that logic whenever I get water for use untreated (as when boiling water for food or hot drinks - though boiling kills everything).
    For those not treating or treating with chemicals, I think this is a good idea.
    As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn back from his way and live. Ezekiel 33:11
    Did Adam and Eve rest on the first Sabbath? Scripture only says that God did. Are we thinking yet?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tinker View Post
    ...One of the articles I read about Giardia and Cryptosporidia stated that, since the cysts are heavier than water, it's a good idea to get your water from a still pool in a stream rather than from the part of the stream with a current....
    Interesting. And I read once that sunlight will help sterilize the top few inches of stagnant water.

    I guess this is turning into a water treatment thread--sorry, OP.

    A quick web search shows immunity to giardia may be possible, and that up to 10% of Americans are carriers (probably including all the hikers, like me, who don't treat water). Which reminds me, I also read somewhere that people may have spread the disease to the much-maligned beavers.
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    Registered User mountainman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tinker View Post
    I don't know whether you can get immune to Giardia. It's not likely. I, as a young boy, used to have a fort in the woods at the edge of a cow pasture. The stream flowed right through the pasture. We didn't know any better so we drank right out of it. I didn't get sick any more frequently or experience any worse symptoms than before or after we used that stream.

    One of the articles I read about Giardia and Cryptosporidia stated that, since the cysts are heavier than water, it's a good idea to get your water from a still pool in a stream rather than from the part of the stream with a current.
    It made sense to me so I try to follow that logic whenever I get water for use untreated (as when boiling water for food or hot drinks - though boiling kills everything).
    For those not treating or treating with chemicals, I think this is a good idea.

    Thanks, I'll rethink the running verses still water logic

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    AT 4,000 miler, LT Blissful's Avatar
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    Some SOBOS did get it in Vermont. There's many beaver ponds in the lower part. Watch where the water comes from.

    I did blog on this, but I run on the side of caution and treat every source. I used Aqua mira for 4,000 miles and did not get a water borne illness.



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    I have been fine the last few years until this September, NH hike, got giardia, felt like a 3 week hangover, great news is that I lost some needed weight and have kept most of it off!

    Dr thought it was a virus at 1st, and I had to travel on business, took a round of antibiotics, did not work, then a stool sample, confirmed giardia...........he prescribed 4 antibiotics to take at once, GONE

    Really sapped my energy at times..............overall, worth the weight loss, with that in mind, I am working on a 5 lb,10lb and 15lb Giardia weight loss program.

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