Giardia is a microscopic, single celled, parasitic organism that lives in most lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, and possibly even snow in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. It lives in the intestines of infected animals and is spread when their feces enters the water supply.
If you want to improve your running skills, by all means, drink from the lakes and streams – you’ll be running to the bathroom all the time!
Tap water and municipal water are just fine to drink. But you should avoid drinking from any untreated water sources, even if they appear to be crystal clear mountain streams.
- Gas and bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach and abdominal cramps
- Greasy stools
- Weight loss and dehydration
Symptoms will appear from 1-2 weeks after drinking water from an infected source. Symptoms typically last from 2-6 weeks, although there are some people who struggle with the symptoms for the rest of their lives. If THAT ain’t enough to keep you from drinking the water, I don’t know what is.
If you suspect you have giardia, see your physician. They will most likely prescribe medication, which you may need to take for several weeks. You should also drink lots of purified water and make sure your diet is healthy. The stronger your immune system is (and you are what you eat), the better able your body will be to rid itself of the giardia parasite. By the same token, children and the elderly are more susceptible to the effects of giardia, so it is important to supervise their activities near the water.
The best way to prevent giardia is to not drink untreated water. If swimming or playing in untreated water, try to avoid getting water in or around your mouth.
Water from faucets in campgrounds is safe to drink unless otherwise labeled. If camping in the backcountry, you will need to treat your water with one of the following methods. (Note, some of the links below may be affiliate links.)
Boiling: Bring water to a complete rolling boil for at least five minutes. At sea level, you can get away with only one minute of boiling, but at high altitude, where water boils at a lower temperature, it’s best to boil at least five minutes. Better safe than sorry.
Filtration: Not all filtration devices are effective against giardia. Use a filter that is 1 micron or less, or is rated for cyst removal by the NSF. This Sawyer filter is affordable and removes giardia. Filters have the advantage of removing sediment from the water, too, so it looks more appetizing to drink!
Iodine or chlorine tablets: Tablets (such as these) have the advantage of being very cheap and easy to use. Iodine is probably more effective than chlorine and less nasty tasting, though it should not be used by anyone with a thyroid issue or who is pregnant. Iodine and chlorine are less effective than boiling or filtration. Also, don’t add anything to the water (powdered lemonade, for example) until the chemical sterilization is complete.
SteriPen: This is a battery powered ultraviolet treatment device effective against giardia. The SteriPen is relatively afforable and can be easily transported. Use as directed.
While these methods are very effective at preventing giardia transmission, no method is 100% foolproof. If in doubt, boil or filter.