Purpose of review
Giardia is a common intestinal parasite worldwide, and infection can be associated with clear and sometimes persistent symptomatology. However, in children in high-prevalence settings, it is not associated with or is perhaps even protective against acute diarrhea, and the association with long-term outcomes has been difficult to discern.
Recent studies have made progress in helping us disentangle this apparent paradox. First, prospective, well-characterized cohort studies have added to the data on the association between Giardia and diarrhea in these settings and have further characterized associations between Giardia infection and nutrition, gut function, and growth. Second, animal models have further characterized the host response to Giardia and helped elucidate mechanisms by which Giardia could impair child development. Finally, new work has shed light on the heterogeneity of human Giardia strains, which may both explain discrepant findings in the literature and help guide higher-resolution analyses of this pathogen in the future.
The true clinical impact of endemic pediatric giardiasis remains unclear, but recent prospective studies have confirmed a high prevalence of persistent, subclinical Giardia infections and associated growth shortfalls. Integrating how nutritional, microbial, metabolic, and pathogen–strain variables influence these outcomes could sharpen delineations between pathogenic and potentially beneficial attributes of this enigmatic parasite.