Giardia: Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

Giardia and Trucking
Believe me, ten days of feeling clammy, feverish, vomiting and the worst stomach pain I have ever felt is an experience I never want to repeat again.
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A few years ago while traveling with my husband through the United States in a semi we had an experience that to this day has changed the way we live our lives while at home or traveling.I had never really thought about the purity of what I ate or drank while traveling through the United States. I thought you only really had to worry about that when traveling in foreign countries. We were traveling in a long nose Peterbuilt semi with a 53' van trailer behind us right through tornado alley in the center of the plain states in hot humid summer weather.It was miserable.

The air conditioning in the truck went down on our way to Texas and even having the windows down didn't seem to help with the heat. On our way through Kansas we ran into tornado weather and had to pull over at a little out-of-the-way truck stop and wait for the weather to clear.

We went inside and I ordered a coke with ice. We weren't hungry so we just drank cokes and enjoyed the air conditioning for awhile before hitting the road again.

We hit the road hard and my husband wasn't feeling too good. He was sweating and felt clammy to the touch. We traveled as far as possible into Missouri and then pulled in for the night. I was thirsty and filled a couple water bottles from the drinking fountain at the rest stop.

The next morning came soon enough and we hit the road again. Next place we were headed was past Nashville, Tennessee and just into the tip of Georgia. My husband felt awful but kept the truck moving and we kept refilling our water bottles at rest stops and restaurants along the route and getting ice from the soda fountains when we bought cokes.

It was a long haul to Texas and we couldn't get the air fixed until we got to Fort Worth, Texas. Tornado weather followed us all the way from Iowa to Texas and the wind was blowing so hard at times that it was hard to see ahead of you.

We finally made it to Texas and pulled into a truck stop for the night to get something to eat,take showers and wash our laundry.The lot was full and we managed to find a place to park our rig and trailer with just one spot left open. While we were sitting there another semi and trailer pulled in next to us. It was parked so close that we both had to climb out the driver's side to go inside.The steps were wet from the rain and as I was climbing down the rig after my husband I slipped on the wet steps and came crashing down the steps to the concrete parking lot banging my shoulder and wrist on my way down landing on my neck and shoulders.

I was briefly knocked out and when I came to my husband's worried face was looking down at me. He thought I should go to the doctor and I said all I needed was some aspirin. I got up and brushed the mud off me and he helped me inside.I can say that a shower never felt so good!

We did up our laundry and went into the truck plaza restaurant for something hot to eat and cold to drink. Again I ordered Coke with ice. My husband rarely wanted ice. He liked hot coffee or cold sweet tea.He still felt nasty and was running a slight fever. I had a headache but after landing on my head I figured that was natural.

Over the next few weeks we had traveled through at least nine or more states and by now both of us were starting to feel ill. As soon as we made it back to Iowa we took some time off the truck to try and recover.My husband seemed to bounce back to health pretty quick but I seemed to feel worse.

I woke up about eight in the morning and the entire room seemed to spin on me.I was thirsty and running a fever.In a few hours I had the most awful stomach cramps and then felt a bout of nausea. The nausea worsened and diarrhea soon followed with severe vomiting. It got so bad that on my way to the bathroom I passed out on two occasions. My husband came home from running errands and took me to the emergency room to find out what was wrong. Six hours later and several medications through an IV my stomach finally settled down. They couldn't find anything wrong and sent me home with a severe case of flu.

Three days later I was sent to Iowa City hospital for an endoscopy and colonoscopy by my family doctor as the cramping and nausea were back again. I was surprised when after the scopes the doctor started asking me if I had drank from a stream when fishing or hiking. Gross! I would never do that.It isn't sanitary.

During the scope the doctor told me that I had somehow swallowed a rather nasty microscopic bug which caused a cryptosporidium infection and giardia. What?I was horrified. He explained to me that in the active form the trophozoite spreads giardia infection throughout the small intestine. The infection may not show any visible signs for 2-10 days after you are infected.

I asked him how I could have got the infection and the doctor told me that most likely they were swallowed in an inactive form called a cyst. The inactive cyst can exist for prolonged periods outside the body. When the cysts are swallowed they adhere to the stomach until the stomach acid activates the cyst and changes it to an active form of bacteria. All it takes are 10 microscopic cysts to cause a full blown infection.

I hadn't drank from a stream or from untreated water so I was mystified as to how I had somehow managed to become infected. Then I found out that the infection is spread by contact with infected human or animals which included soil, food, water or even surfaces. Even a public or private swimming pool, hot tubs, jaccuzzi, drinking fountain or even ice can be a possible carrier of the cysts that can cause this infection.

Narrowing down where I could have contracted the cysts was nearly impossible as we had traveled through at least nine states.I had drunk water from several rest stop fountains and refilled our water bottles. When we stopped at a truck stop I always had ice with my coke. I never did find out where I managed to drink contaminated water and probably never will but it changed how we travel now. We do not drink from any drinking fountain now and we buy bottles of sealed drinking water.I follow my husband's example and do not order coke with ice (period). The bacteria can be transferred as easily as someone getting the contamination on their hands and not washing their hands before preparing your food, filling an ice machine, putting ice in a glass, wiping down your table, seeping into ground drinking water, etc.The bacteria can even survive for days in a chlorine pool. It really made me rethink soaking in the community hot tub next time we stay at a hotel.Believe me, ten days of feeling clammy, feverish, vomiting and the worst stomach pain I have ever felt is an experience I never want to repeat again.

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