Written by: Jenny Cade
Let’s talk threadworms – something most children are likely to get at sometime during their life – especially between the ages of 5 and 14 years. Many parents feel uncomfortable admitting that their child is infected yet threadworms are neither a sign of uncleanliness nor lack of care. Anyone can become infected with threadworms.
While there are many types of worms that can infect humans, the most likely culprit in children in New Zealand is the threadworm, also known as pinworms. Worms like hookworm, whipworm and roundworm are rare in New Zealand. They are sometimes seen in people who have just arrived to live in NZ or have recently returned from travelling overseas especially in Asia or Africa.
Threadworms occur more often in children than adults because children play closely together and the eggs are passed from one child to another.
A child can get eggs on their hands after touching things such as clothing, toilet seats, towels, floors or toys. Then when they put their hands in or near their mouth, they can swallow the eggs which travel down to their intestines where they grow and mature. Threadworms live for about 5-6 weeks in the gut, then die. Before they die, the female worms move down the intestine and out to the anus where they lay more eggs. The eggs can then be transferred onto fingers, underwear, pyjamas, bed linen, furniture and floors (especially around toilets) and so the cycle of passing eggs from one person to another begins all over again. Threadworm eggs can live for up to 2 weeks outside the body.
Threadworms look like short pieces of white cotton about 5-10mm long. The eggs are colourless sticky ‘balls’ – they might be able to be seen if they are clustered together.
The first sign of threadworm infection is usually a child complaining of an itchy bottom (anus), especially at night. The itching typically occurs at night as this is when the female worms leave the anus and lay their eggs on the surrounding skin. The glue that sticks the eggs to the skin irritates the area and causes the itch.
If you think your child might have worms, it’s a good idea to take a look. The best time to look is at night when the child is asleep. Use a torch to look around the anal area and see if you can see moving worms – they will look like thin, white, wriggling threads about 1-2 cm in length. You should also check the child’s bowel motions as you may see worms on them.
Other symptoms that may indicate your child has threadworms includes irritability, restlessness, not sleeping well, tiredness, lack of concentration and decreased appetite or weight loss despite eating well.
Threadworms are easily treated with products available from your pharmacy. There are tablets, suspensions, chewable tablets and even chocolate squares i.e. something to suit all ages and for kids who can’t swallow tablets. With most treatments, one dose is all that is needed. However, as worming products treat only the adult worms and don’t prevent re-infestation, check again 2-4 weeks after the first treatment and retreat if necessary.
Everyone who lives in the house should be treated – this includes parents and other adults even if they don’t have any symptoms. Pregnant women, children under 2 years of age and people with kidney, liver or heart disease should only be treated on the advice of a doctor – it may be best to wait until these people have clear signs of infection before they are treated.
To help prevent re-infection:
- Everyone should have a bath or shower before taking the medicine. The recommended regime is to have a bath or shower at night and take the medicine before going to bed then have a bath or shower again in the morning to remove any eggs that may have been laid during the night. A good idea is to undress children in the shower so any eggs will be washed away rather than falling out onto a bed or carpet.
- Wash all bed sheets, pyjamas, towels and underwear in hot water as eggs can stick to these.
- Vacuum furniture and bedrooms and wash around the toilet to remove any eggs.
- Make sure everyone washes their hands after using the toilet and before preparing or eating food.
- Keep fingernails short and clean. Discourage nail biting and thumb sucking.
This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked materials, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.