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Monday, February 28, 2011

Giardia--The Parasite Your Vet May Not Be Looking For

First of all, I want to apologize for another "parasite blog." I'm really not all that preoccupied with small creatures that invade our pets (and sometimes us). It's just that I received a report last week summarizing the number and types of parasites found from our patients' fecal tests over the past two months. The report was furnished by our outside lab service (Antech Diagnostics). I was stunned to see that 17% of the patients were infected with Giardia. That's almost one out of every five. Statistics from all St. Louis-area practices showed a slightly lower infection rate of 14%.

There are a couple of things that make these numbers highly significant. First of all, Giardia is one of those parasites that is contagious to people. Giardiasis is typically mild in humans with diarrhea as the primary symptom. Additionally, getting Giardia from a family pet is uncommon, with only a few documented cases. Having said that, Giardia infections in immune-compromised persons (people with AIDS, chemotherapy patients, very old or young people) can cause devastating, even life-threatening illness. The other significant thing to note is that most veterinarians do not routinely test for Giardia.

Giardia can sometimes be detected on routine fecal floats done by most veterinarians, but more often than not, the fecal float will not detect the parasite, even if it's done properly. The most accurate way to find Giardia is by performing a specific test (called an ELISA) to look for it.

At our hospital, we strongly urge Giardia testing on all new pets. We offer the test as an optional service to all pets on an annual basis. Many veterinarians do not recommend Giardia testing on asymptomatic pets. This is probably because they think it isn't very common (wrong!), or that their fecal flotation tests will detect it (less than 50% of the time!) In light of the report I received, we might start pushing pet owners to test for this parasite every year. We have a link on our hospital website with more information on Giardiasis: http://www.horseshoepets.com/giardia.html

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