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Giardia is one of the most common intestinal parasites in the world, infecting as much as 20% of the entire population of the earth. It is common in overcrowded developing countries with poor sanitation and a lack of clean water. Recent tests have found Giardia in 7% of all stool samples tested nationwide, indicating that this disease is much more widespread than was originally believed. It has been found not only in humans, but also in wild and domestic animals.

Giardiasis is becoming a growing problem in the United States, where it affects three times more children than adults. In recent years, giardiasis outbreaks have been common among people in schools or daycare centers and at catered affairs and large public picnic areas. Children can easily pass on the infection by touching contaminated toys, changing tables, utensils, or their own feces, and then touching other people. For this reason, infection spreads quickly through a daycare center or institution for the developmentally disabled.

Unfiltered streams or lakes that may be contaminated by human or animal wastes are a common source of infection. Outbreaks can occur among campers and hikers who drink untreated water from mountain streams. While 20 million Americans drink unfiltered city water from streams or rivers, giardiasis outbreaks from tainted city water have been rare. Most of these problems have occurred not due to the absence of filters, but because of malfunctions in city water treatment plants, such as a temporary drop in chlorine levels. It is possible to become infected in a public swimming pool, however, since Giardia can survive in chlorinated water for about 15 minutes. During that time, it is possible for an individual to swallow contaminated pool water and become infected.

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