Q. The puppy we just adopted from a shelter was diagnosed with a parasite called Giardia. When I looked it up online, it said that people can get it from their pets. My vet said not to be so worried, but I can’t help thinking that I’ve got it already. Please help!
You can stop worrying — mostly.
Giardia is a one-cell protozoan parasite that can lead to a diarrheal disease called giardiasis that’s common in dogs, cats and humans. Research suggests it is found in up to 39 percent of shelter pets worldwide. In an Australian study, 80 percent of cats in Perth tested positive for it.
That said, plenty of animals that test positive for a disease never show any symptoms. This might be because different strains affect animals differently, but it may also suggest that the giardiasis is self-limiting. In self-limiting cases, the animal’s body eventually clears the infection, with no treatment required.
All of which suggests that Giardia isn’t exactly one of the scariest parasites. The ubiquitous roundworm and hookworm can lead to blindness in children and disfiguring skin lesions, respectively, while Giardia tends to restrict its effects to a bad case of loose stool.
Giardia is transmissible via ingestion of the organisms themselves, most often via an intermediary environment such as fecal-contaminated water. Transmission to humans can only occur upon ingestion of the animal’s stool. That’s why diligent hand washing is considered a highly effective means of disease prevention.
I hope I’ve painted a picture of a not-so-sinister parasite. But here’s a caveat: If you start to have any intestinal symptoms (typically within 25 days of exposure) or have a compromised immune system, contact your physician.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dr. Dolittler, Tropical Life, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.