Giardia or indigestion?
April 4, 2014 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Two weeks ago my partner drank straight from a river, a few days later he had major digestive distress. Is there correlation?

Two weeks ago we were on a roadtrip in Oregon and stopped at the Collier Memorial State Park. It was cool seeing all the old logging equipment. When I went to go take some pictures of the Williamson River that runs along the park, my partner knelt down and scooped two handfuls of water into his mouth.

I asked him what the hell he was thinking, drinking water straight from the river like that. He said it was just snow runoff and probably safe. I told him he was going to get giardia.

Two days later he started having some stomach problems - a lot of the usual symptoms of giardia, though it only lasted about a week.

So is the risk from drinking straight from the river sufficient enough to blame that on his problems or was it something he ate? We pretty much ate the same food on the trip and I had no problems. I also didn't drink water straight from a river.

(Yes, we're still arguing about this.)
posted by kendrak to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So is the risk from drinking straight from the river sufficient enough to blame that on his problems or was it something he ate? Yep. You win. Don't rub his nose in it.
posted by Brent Parker at 11:01 AM on April 4, 2014 [20 favorites]

Usually when you're doing an origin/cause analysis like this and you (1) know X happened which carries an obvious risk of [consequence] and (2) have no other information suggesting other obvious risk factors were present, it's pretty safe to assume X was the cause.

So yeah. It's probably from the river.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:04 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

There are other things it could have been besides giradia, but it was likely in the river water either way...

If I had to place a bet, I'd go with e. coli.
posted by advicepig at 11:10 AM on April 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Sure sounds like beaver fever to me. I thought I'd read somewhere that there was no surface water left in the US that wasn't tainted with it. Turns out that's a bit overblown, but you'd have to be high up and remote to be safer than you were.
posted by jquinby at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yup--delayed onset is a red flag too.

If he insists on drinking straight from streams in the future, at least have him suck it up through one of these next time.
posted by blue suede stockings at 11:22 AM on April 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Your partner is being a little silly, and I think you're almost certainly right about it being giardia. A week of symptoms is on the shorter side duration-wise, but still totally plausible.
posted by invitapriore at 11:23 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you should encourage him to go back and scoop two more handfuls of river water, just so he can prove to you it wasn't giardia or otherwise river-related sickness.


Of course he got sick from the river. The last time (and first time) I got sick from untreated water out in nature I was about 10 years old. Many wilderness backpacking miles later, I only ever use a filter on untreated water since.
posted by jbenben at 11:40 AM on April 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's probably giardia, but I agree with the consensus above that you should think about whether it's more important to be right or kind in this particular situation.

People get weirdly fighty about their bizarre ideas about health related things. As someone who knows a fair bit about medicine/health and is also a total pedant, I really feel you about wanting to die on this particular hill. But trust me, unless you guys hike around streams on a daily basis, it's just not worth it.
posted by Sara C. at 11:43 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was actually very kind. I didn't make the connection until after he said he felt better. After I spent days making him white rice, and broth, and tea, and got him some pepto and helped him convalesce. He thought it might have been the water right away but didn't say anything.

So this argument started after he cleared up, and has mostly been good natured. Though if I ever see him drink untreated water again, I won't have much sympathy.
posted by kendrak at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Giardia comes and goes in cycles, so if he starts suffering again go to the doctor and get him tested.
posted by schroedinger at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

So. I've had the experience of having had giardia twice. Perhaps you're protecting your partner, but your description is so calm, you didn't mention going to the doctor, and there is no HOLY MOTHER OF GOD DID SOMETHING DIE IN HIS INTESTINE tone to it, so it doesn't really sound like giardia.

Both times it was more than a week after I got exposed before the symptoms appeared, and both times, the worst of it took about 4 weeks, and it was really months before I completely recovered. Other people I've known who've got giardia - including 3 of the same people who caught it the same place I did (a friendly shared dinner with some strangers in the middle of the woods)- all had roughly the same symptoms.

It seems very likely that your partner caught some kind of water-borne illness, but it does not seem from your description like giardia. I do not want to describe to you what having giardia entails, but it was...foul. If you can forgive the crudeness, my dad once commented that once you have giardia, you'll never shit the same again. While that's an exaggeration, for a long, long, long time you'll certainly not see any hyperbole to it.

Anyway, I'm no expert; it's quite possible that other people have had different experiences, and it probably differs based on how much parasite one ingests, but that's been my experience at any rate. I really hope it wasn't giardia, or if it was, then it was a light case and your partner got off incredibly lucky (and if he starts having problems again soon, then get him to a doc ASAP.) Since giardia is one of those catch-all phrases for water-borne illness, if you think the experience has cemented a lesson for your partner, then by all means, keep calling it that.
posted by barchan at 11:59 AM on April 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

A week is pretty short for giardia. Usually when you're out in the woods and you start getting diarrhea, the way you know it's giardia and not bacterial is that it lasts two weeks or more. That's obviously just a rough guide, but when I had giardia in Gabon it definitely kept going and going until I got done with a whole week's worth of Flagyl. (Also it was never debilitating, it's just that I had to poop urgently about three times a day and it was always liquid.)

At a week I'd be more inclined to say it was bacterial, or maybe viral. In any case we'll probably never know. Definitely reasonable to assume it came from the untreated water, though. There is pretty much no surface water in the continental United States that is safe to drink untreated; all of it is potentially contaminated with pathogens from humans or livestock, even on remote mountainsides and such. There are just too many people living here for the water to be safe to drink as-is.
posted by Scientist at 12:06 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just because it's not giardia doesn't mean it wasn't some other nasty bacteria he picked up from the water. My friends are heavy-duty backwoods campers, and even with deliberate and careful filtration one or two of them pick up something nasty every year.
posted by muddgirl at 12:16 PM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

lordy.. drinking from the edge of a stream/river is neigh on begging for something like this. If you absolutely have to drink from a untreated source like this you want is as calm as possible and as deep as possible so the nastiness settles to the bottom.

A week does sound a bit on the light side for a typical giardia incident, but /shrug/ it's certainly possible and in all likelihood whatever it was, was related from the ill-advised water break. Symptoms can vary a bit. mayo clinic precis. Hope you guys have been really really careful about sanitation while he has been ill.
posted by edgeways at 2:23 PM on April 4, 2014

It does sound like he picked it up from the water, but it is not necessarily insane to drink untreated river water. It's the default action when camping here in Aus and I've never known it to cause trouble. My partner and I spent over two weeks drinking untreated water in January.
posted by deadwax at 5:16 AM on April 5, 2014

BTW, if you think it could be giardia, your partner really should go to a doctor. Giardia is sexually transmittable. "Sexual activity can be a method of transmission for several important parasitic diseases, including amebiasis and giardiasis. Oral-anal and oral-genital contact predispose male homosexuals to infections with these enteric pathogens." Even if I were not a male homosexual I'd be a little concerned, enough to justify a doctor visit.
posted by Nelson at 7:42 AM on April 5, 2014

« Older Can you suggest a good restaurant in New York City...   |   Should I dispose of my microwave? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.