The idea of lots of little worms living inside our digestive system makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it? However, a worm infestation doesn’t have to cause a fuss if you deal with it quickly and appropriately. Pinworms are the most common parasitic infection in children – it’s estimated that half of all under 10s will catch them at some point! (source)So, you’re wondering how to tell if you have worms and what to do in that case. There are a few simple signs to look out for, and once you suspect you’ve been infected, the solution is simple. Read on to learn all about worms.
What are Worms?
When people talk about worm infestations, they’re usually referring to threadworms or pinworms. These are small white worms that infect humans’ intestines. They are 2-13 millimeters in length. The name “threadworm” comes from their appearance – they look like a piece of cotton thread.
Humans are the only host for threadworms. We ingest the eggs without realising it. They enter our digestive system where the worms hatch. After a couple of works, the worms are fully mature and begin to reproduce. They lay eggs around the anus at night, allowing the infestation to spread to others. The eggs can survive for up to 3 weeks outside the host. (sources 1, 2)
How Do You Get Worms?
As I mentioned above, worms are mainly spread when humans accidentally ingest the worm’s eggs. They can also be spread by direct contact between individuals. The worm eggs are microscopic and stick to the fingers and underneath the fingernails.
You can catch worms by coming into contact with contaminated objects such as clothing, bedding, sofas or the kitchen counter. You cannot catch them from pets unless an affected human has touched the pet and left worms on their fur, as with any other object. (source) Poor hygiene, e.g. not washing your hands after the toilet is a big factor in spreading worm infestation.
If that wasn’t bad enough, you can also inhale the tiny eggs and then swallow them. Since they are microscopic, they become airborne if you shake a towel or bed sheet that has touched the infested person. (source 1, 2)
How to Tell If You Have Worms
Luckily, it’s quite easy to tell if you have worms. Usually, the symptoms will start suddenly, often at night. The trademark symptom is itching around the bottom as the worms lay eggs in the area and secrete a mucus that has an irritant effect. In some cases, worms will be visible on the feces or around the anus.
What to Do If You Have Worms
If suspect that you or child have worms, you should see your local doctor to confirm the diagnosis and identify the type of worm involved. He or she may do a “tape test” to diagnose threadworms – this involves pressing a clear piece of tape against the anal skin and examining it under the microscope for eggs. A stool sample may also be requested.
Treatment for threadworms is squite straightfowards. It’s possible to buy many anti-worm medicines over-the-counter at pharmacies,and others are available on prescription. Your doctor will prescribe treatment based on the type of worm infection and your symptoms. (source)
All household and family members should take an antiworm medicine as it’s likely they’ve been infected even if they’re not aware of it yet. You will also need to following strict hygiene measures for six weeks after treatment as it’s easy to re-infect yourself and your family. You can read more about this in the next section. (source)
How to Prevent Worms
If your child has worms, the risk of other family members catching them is as high as 75%, so the odds are not in your favour. Other steps to prevent re-infection with worms include:
- Always wash your hands thoroughly before eating and after using the toilet
- Scrubbing under your fingernails and keep them short
- Take a shower every morning to wash the eggs away
- Disinfect the toilet seat daily the week after treatment
- Wash bed sheets, towels and children’s toys in hot water
- If children scratch themselves in their sleep, get them to wear underpants and pyjamas to bed to help prevent anus-to-mouth transfer
- Vacuum and dust the whole house regularly
- Clean all kitchen and bathroom surfaces
- Avoid shaking anything which may have eggs on it to avoid inhaling them
- Don’t let children suck their thumb
Other Types of Worm Infestation in Humans
Although threadworms are the most common type of worm in humans in the developed world, there are several other types which you may come across, including tapeworms, roundworms, whipworms and hookworms. (source)
Tapeworms live in the intestines of some animals. Eating undercooked meat is the main cause of tapeworm infection in humans. Roundworms, whipworms and hookworms are only common in regions of the world with high population density and poor sanitation. You will need diagnostic tests to determine if you have one of these types of worm. (source)
Treatment for worm infestation is usually straightforward but there are a few cases where you will need to see your doctor urgently for medical advice, such as:
- If you have recently been abroad, especially to Asia or Africa
- If there is blood in your feces
- If you are experiencing abdominal pain, diarrhoea or vomiting
- If you lost weight without explanation
- If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a baby under three months old
- If the worms are in a child who is under 6 months old
There are some cases where anti worm medicines are not appropriate, such as in very young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. Always check with a healthcare professional before taking a medicine. (source)
I hope this information has helped take the mystery out of worms infestations. After my daughter brought them home from preschool, I learned it’s an experience I never want to repeat. If you have young kids, it’s likely that they’ll get them at least once, but at least now you know how to tell if you have worms and what to do in that case.