I was talking to somebody the other day and they started joking about how hard up they were for female companionship, the typical lament of youth. He said to me "Man, I am so hard up, I swear, it's like I have beaver fever!", at which point I started to laugh. "You have no idea what beaver fever is, do you?" I asked him. Apparently, not many people around the office had. They all associated it with a compulsion to seek out sex with women instead of with explosive diarrhea. Let me set the record straight for all you young people out there. Beaver fever is no joke! Well, it is kind of funny, seeing as how well it rhymes, but not really.

Like so many other colorfully named fever diseases, like Cat-scratch fever and Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, the name actually describes a possible vector for infection. You can get Rocky Mountain Spotted fever in the Rocky Mountains, usually via tick bites, and catch Cat-scratch fever from Ted Nugent songs.. I mean cat scratches. So, can you catch beaver fever from a beaver? Kind of.

Giardiasis, the proper medical term for beaver fever, is an disease caused by Giardia lamblia, a one-celled, microscopic parasite protozoa found in stagnant waters where animals, like beavers and muskrats, have been excreting. Technically, you get beaver fever from beaver crap. If you are dumb enough to go swimming in the stagnant waters usually found around beaver dams, Hepatitis A, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Cryptosporidium are also possible choices on your infection menu. Drinking water from contaminated sources is the most common initial infection route. This disease, while more common in the habitats of the beaver, be they of either the North American (Castor canadensis) or the European (Castor fiber) variety, is found all over the world. It is the most common cause of waterborne disease in humans in North America. Giardia cysts, the infectious stage of the parasite, are surprisingly resistant to bleach, and can only be reliably killed by boiling suspect water.

After infection, Giardia can also be found in the waste of infected people and some domestic animals, both farm and household pets. Hunting dogs are a very common infection vector. It spreads by hand-to-mouth transfer of the parasite. A person who is infected may not know they are passing the infection on to others because they may not have any symptoms. Infection rates seem to peak at the end of the summer season in the Northern Hemisphere.

What happens when you catch beaver fever? All sorts of unpleasantness. Like any good parasitic infection, Giardia takes up residence in the gastrointestinal tract where it germinates from the swallowed cysts, reproduces, and causes illness. After feeding, the parasites form new cysts, which are then passed in the faeces. The associated fever is the body's response to the presence of outside organisms in the stomach and bowel. Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, gas, malaise, chills, headache, a low grade fever, dehydration and weight loss are the most common symptoms caused by Giardia. These symptoms usually surface six to 16 days after the initial contact and can continue as long as one month. Occasionally, symptoms last longer.

How do you know it's beaver fever that's making you sick as a dog? Well, a doctor will likely ask you to submit stool samples to see if you have the parasite. Because Giardia can be difficult to diagnose, your health care provider may ask you to submit several stool specimens over several days. Given the usual symptoms, this probably won't be much of a problem.

What do you do when you know it's Giardiasis? Several prescription drugs are available to treat Giardia. Metronidazole (Flagyl), furazolidone (Furoxone) and albendazole (Albenza) are the anti-parasitics usually prescribed. The effectiveness of these preparations is at least 85% if the individual has no immune-system problems. However, Giardia is usually cleared from healthy people without treatment within a month.

So remember kids, if you are playing with beavers, always wash your hands.

thanks to DejaMorgana (pendantus pendanticus) for the info on beavers

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