Beaver Fever

“I’m sure you figured it out. And if we were in Mexico, you could have just gone down to the drug store and treated yourself. But we’re not in Mexico.”

“Uh huh.”

“So, we’re 95 percent sure what you have. I can write you a script for some antibiotics, and they’ll cost you $12. Or I can order a stool test. Those are amazing. It’ll show us everything. But they’re $800.”

“Oh jeez, I’ll pass on that. I think the antibiotics’ll be fine.”

After all the milage I got out of making fun of Ole Poop Splash, it was inevitable that I’d get the Giardia too. That’s how the universe works.

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When it started on a Saturday few weeks ago, I blamed the especially fierce hangover-like symptoms on three dollar well whiskey at the Black Nugget. After a week, I was pretty sure that there was something else going on.

It started to get a little better, as the Beaver Fever tends to do. Then it came back- and damn if it wasn’t painfully hard to concentrate at work when I was too nauseous to stand up. So at the end of the second week, I gave up on letting my body clean itself out and went to the clinic.

Sometimes a body needs some help (the last time was at the doctor was when some Ohiopyle staph tried to rot my leg). Untreated, Giardia can last more than six weeks, and cause longterm complications like irritable bowel syndrome. And man, it’s unpleasant. After evacuating my stomach in the morning, the rest of the day it felt like I had a terrible hangover that just wouldn’t quit. Living the dream.

I definitely picked up the bug while I raced the Colorado Trail. I was using Aqua Mira to purify water, but there were lots of times where I didn’t wait the required 15 minutes for the chemicals to work before I started drinking again- just way too thirsty. And lots of times I drank water from questionable sources. Thirst is really hard to ignore, even when you know better.

Suppose I could have picked it up anywhere, but since it tends to live in areas with lots of cows (with water infected by giardia carrying cow poop), it seems most likely that I got it from drinking out of an irrigation ditch on one of the Wilderness detours, after letting the Aqua Mira work for about two minutes.

I knew that I was basically drinking untreated cow poo water, but it was hot out.

Next time, I’ll carry a separate bottle to empty the last of my good water in, so I can keep drinking while I wait for the other stuff to purify. Or I’ll just go back to using a SteriPen. I’ve zapped some really nasty desert cattle tank water with that thing, and never had a problem. 90 seconds of UV light, and it’s good to go.

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I know some people who don’t bother purifying water. The last two weeks have convinced me that that’s a real bad idea, especially in the West, where cattle are everywhere. If you’re unlucky enough to down enough of the cysts, they’re almost certainly gonna bring you down. Even if that only happens once every ten years, it’s just not worth it.

In cold water Aqua Mira takes more than thirty minutes to be effective. That means I drank a lot of liters of untreated evil, since I was usually thirstiest when I first made it to the water.

A person can build up a little bit of resistance but Giardia is such a nasty, resilient thing, that even dogs get it. I don’t think I’ll ever build up more immunity than an animal that regularly rolls in dead stuff, eats garbage, and licks butts, so I’m going to be more careful with my purification from now on.

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Here’s the rundown on the Beaver Fever- CDC. Probably worth reading if you’re out in the backcountry a lot.    

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