Caution: Wilderness Water may Carry Giardiasis

Wilderness water may carry giardiasis, an intestinal parasite outdoor enthusiasts should avoid. Includes information on beaver fever, giardiasis disease, transmission and treatment and backcountry protection.

| July/August 1985

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    How can you keep from getting giardiasis . . . or get rid of a case you do contract? To answer these questions, you first need to understand what both the organism and the ailment are.
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    Diagram: Parts of the intestinal parasite Giardia lamblia.

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Water you drink in the pristine outdoors may not be as pure as you'd think because wilderness water may carry giardiasis. 

I wandered up a rock canyon that veered off from a larger dry wash. The spot was so remote that I could find no trace of footprints on the soft, sandy bottom. The sides of the canyon grew steeper and narrower around each bend.

A spotted owl greeted me from his perch on a box elder tree. I thought he'd probably never seen anything like me so close, and I told him I felt the same about him. I watched the bird awhile, then went on my way. Before long, the canyon walls were only seven or eight feet apart and about 40 feet high, winding tight around corners.

Then I heard it: "gurgle, burble" . . . the sound any creature in the high desert would find heavenly. Abruptly the canyon ended in a tiny waterfall and a pool. I drank and drank. Ahhh . . .

During the six months that followed, I returned to this isolated canyon whenever I could. I discovered the origin of the spring, about 60 feet above the falls. The spot was my own paradise. I always drank my fill from the little waterfall. And I always left it feeling renewed and restored.

Then one day I took a friend into the canyon after the summer rains. He, too, was enchanted. But he wouldn't drink the water at the end. "No way," he said, wary of some parasite he'd heard was infecting our streams and rivers. I drank some water, though. After all, I knew the spring was safe.

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