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Can you treat Giardia with Ciprofloxacin?

Using cipro to treat Giardia lamblia
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Cipro’s prowess as a bacteria killer is well documented. It is not considered to be effective on parasites, though. Or is it?

There is some research that now suggests cipro may be toxic for certain parasites, like Giardia lamblia. I learned about the possibility while eating barbecued chicken and having a few beers with friends here in Mali.

A friend of a friend, who happens to be studying tropical medicine, brought up his lingering giardia infection (these are common topics at the dinner table here). He went on to say that he was taking to cipro to treat the infection.

Before reading further, you may want to get caught up on both cipro (see here) and giardia (see here). Already know what we are talking about? Keep reading.

I did not believe my friend’s friend, but I also know that giardia is a nebulous disease. It can be asymptomatic, and it can stealthily reemerge if treatment is not effective. Why not add another twist to this story?

There is at least one study that has been conducted on the subject. It found that ciprofloxacin could be a viable alternative for giardia treatment. Cipro had cytotoxic effects on the giardia parasite:

Ciprofloxacin also inhibits parasite growth, adherence and O(2) uptake in a concentration-dependent manner. Some of these observations suggest that cytotoxicity of ciprofloxacin results in cell death by a necrosis process. We demonstrate that ciprofloxacin has a lethal effect in G. lamblia trophozoites and could be used as an alternative drug in giardiasis treatment, particularly in infections that are resistant to other antibiotics. (source)

One study is all we can find for the moment, but the conclusive nature of this one is encouraging. Why is it encouraging? Because many people have problems with metronidazole side effects (myself included. I had vertigo and an atrocious metal taste in my mouth when I took it). Anyway, alternative treatments are always welcome for any disease. The bigger the arsenal, the greater the chances of effective treatment.

There is an additional reason why this development would be excellent news. Cipro is already used to treat a variety of intestinal bacterial infections. Having a single point of treatment for several infections is obviously convenient. The only complication is that dosages may vary depending on the infection. Even if cipro is effective in treating giardia infections, it is not yet clear what the correct dosage is for comprehensive treatment.

The bottom line is that we don’t know enough about treating giardia with cipro in order to endorse it as a treatment. Success in a laboratory setting is not definitive, and more research needs to be done before we can have a clear picture.

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