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Reverse Osmosis Water Filters: Guarding Against Giardia

Reverse Osmosis Water Filters: Guarding Against Giardia

Clean water is an essential part of our everyday lives. We depend on clean, fresh water for cooking, drinking, and bathing. Whether we get our water from a municipal source like a city water department or have our private wells, safe water is not always something we can take for granted. Hidden contaminants can lurk in water supplies, putting our health in danger. Some of these contaminants are biological, and one stands out as a severe health risk: Giardia. What is Giardia, and how can we keep ourselves and our family members safe from it? In this guide, we will explore giardia and how a reverse osmosis water filter is effective at removing this harmful pathogen from our water.

Giardia 101

Giardia is a living organism classified by scientists as a protozoan flagellate. Some disagree with its scientific name; some scientists refer to the organism as Giardia lamblia, while others say the correct name is Giardia duodenalis. Whatever it is called, this contaminant poses a very real threat to human health.

Giardia is protected by a hard protein shell called a cyst. Because of this shell, water quality professionals categorize Giardia as a protozoan cyst, which also includes pathogenic organisms like Cryptosporidium. The outer shell protects the organism inside; Giardia is resistant to chemical water disinfection practices like the addition of chlorine and can survive outside the body for long periods.

The organism requires passage through a human or animal digestive system to complete its life cycle. The cysts are often shed in water supplies through animal feces; the cysts are then swallowed by other animals or by humans when contaminated water is consumed. Once inside an animal or human host, the cyst releases two trophozoites, which then multiply rapidly in the intestines. Eventually, the trophozoites transform back into cysts and pass into the colon, where they are released in the stools. 


Can Giardia Make Humans Sick?

Giardia is found around the world, often in soil or water contaminated by animal activity. While some people who consume water contaminated with Giardia experience no symptoms, others can have serious or even life-threatening complications. After one to two weeks after being exposed to Giardia-contaminated water, symptoms of giardiasis (the disease caused by Giardia) include:

  • Dehydration
  • Gas and bloating
  • Greasy stools
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Swelling in the joints
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue

Left untreated, giardiasis can have long-term health complications for infected individuals. Some victims may experience weight loss or nutrient deficiencies. Children infected with the pathogen may experience delays in mental and physical development. In severe infections, recurring diarrhea may last for years. Other long-term effects include irritable bowel syndrome and reactive arthritis.

giadia illness

Medical professionals diagnose Giardia infections by examining stool samples and by carefully researching a patient’s history of water consumption and nutrition habits. If the cysts are found in samples, or if symptoms of giardiasis occur, prescription drugs are used to treat the infection. Patients infected with Giardia must drink pure water free of harmful contaminants to ward off dangerous dehydration. A reverse osmosis water filter ensures clean, safe water for everyday uses in and around the home. 

How Common is Giardia in Water Supplies?

Giardia infections are typically associated with drinking untreated contaminated water from rivers, lakes, or streams. The pathogen is relatively rare in water supplied by municipal treatment systems and wells, yet it can appear without warning. On average, about 4500 people are infected with Giardia each year in the United States. Widespread infections have occurred in some of the largest cities in the United States. A television show halted production in 2021 after over 40 cast members and crew became sick with giardiasis from contaminated water on the set. 

Water can become contaminated through:

  • Animal activity
  • Stormwater runoff
  • Agricultural runoff
  • Natural disasters
  • Damage to well casings, allowing contaminants to flow into the well
  • Failure of water disinfection equipment
  • Improper water disinfection or storage practices

We tend to trust the water that comes out of our tap in the home, believing it is safe and free of harmful contaminants. Even these water supplies may become contaminated; only boiling the water for long periods or filtering it using a reverse osmosis water filter can ensure that Giardia cysts are destroyed or removed from the water before they can make us sick. 

Removing Giardia from Water Supplies

Because Giardia cysts are resistant to some forms of chemical disinfection, there are only two reliable ways of stopping the pathogens before they can cause illness: boiling and filtration. Boiling is a time-consuming process and is typically reserved only for emergencies, such as when a city issues a water contamination notice to residents. 

Filtration, on the other hand, can be accomplished easily using a reverse osmosis water filter. Installed between the water supply plumbing and the faucets or fixtures in your home, these filters use a mechanical process called reverse osmosis to pump water under pressure through a semipermeable membrane. The membrane’s tiny holes allow clean water to pass through, but contaminants are trapped. A reverse osmosis water filter stops protozoan cysts, most bacteria, and even some viruses from contaminating the water you rely on for drinking, bathing, and cooking.

Reverse osmosis system

The most advanced reverse osmosis water filters use multiple stages to remove harmful contaminants from water supplies. Each stage is designed for a specific purpose; the first stage prefilter removes sediment and sand, then the reverse osmosis filter does the hard work of removing dangerous organisms. After the reverse osmosis stage, the water passes through a post-filter to improve taste, odor, and clarity. The result is clean, pure water for use in your home. 

contaminants removed by reverse osmosis

Water filtration using the reverse osmosis process is incredibly effective. Reverse osmosis water filters remove 99% or more of contaminants, including:

  • Chlorine
  • Fluoride
  • Dissolved minerals
  • Heavy metals
  • Protozoan cysts
  • Bacteria
  • Salts

These systems can process up to 100 gallons per day, ensuring ample water for you and your family. They are easy to maintain, requiring only periodic filter changes. Although Giardia is relatively rare, reverse osmosis water filters are proven as a means of protecting your loved ones from potentially harmful contaminants that can cause illness.

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