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Parents, It Sounds Gross, But We Need To Talk About Pinworms
PHOTO BY @szefei/iStock
  • Thanks to COVID-19, children now know the importance of handwashing, which experts consider as one of the best ways to reduce the risk of infection. But even as the pandemic rages, the coronavirus is not the only illness we should be wary of — handwashing with soap and water is highly effective in preventing diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. This also removes microscopic worm eggs that get stuck underneath your fingernails and cause pinworms.

    READ THESE STORIES ON COMMON CHILDHOOD DISEASES

    What are pinworms?

    Pinworms are tiny, parasitic roundworms that are white in color and less than a half-inch long. They cause the most common type of human intestinal worm infection, also known as enterobiasis or oxyuriasis. It affects millions of people in the United States each year, particularly school-age kids.

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    Pinworm infections can spread easily — it can occur in more than one person in a household or institution, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Childcare or daycare would often report cases of pinworm infection.

    What causes pinworm infections?

    Pinworm infection spreads through the fecal-oral route — the microscopic eggs transfer from the anus to someone’s mouth, either directly by hand or indirectly through contaminated surfaces like

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    • beddings
    • towels
    • clothing (especially underwear and pajamas)
    • toilets
    • bathroom fixtures
    • food
    • drinking glasses
    • utensils
    • toys
    • kitchen counters
    • sandboxes

    How does a pinworm infection spread?

    Ingested eggs pass through the digestive track and stay in the small intestine until it hatches, according to KidsHealth.org. Once it hatches, the pinworm larvae travels to the large intestine, where they live as parasites “with their heads attached to the inside wall of the bowel.”

    After one or two months, the adult female pinworms will leave the large intestine through the anus. They will then lay eggs on the skin right around the anus, which usually causes itching, especially at night.

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    When an infected person scratches her behind, the pinworm eggs transfer to their fingers — repeating the cycle of contamination. Children can transform the eggs easily by putting infected toys or objects into their mouths, while babies can get it if they suck their dirty thumbs. It can also be ingested while breathing — because of its small size, pinworm eggs sometimes become airborne.

    Pinworm eggs can stay on various surfaces up to three weeks, according to KidsHealth. It can also live up to 13 weeks. You cannot get it from animals.

    How do you know if you have pinworms? 

    Symptoms are usually mild while some infected people do not even experience symptoms. But the most common sign that you may have pinworms is itching around the anus. Since this usually occurs at night, infected individuals may have difficulty sleeping or experience restlessness.

    Pinworms can also spread to the vagina and cause a vaginal discharge. If the itching breaks the skin, it can also cause a bacterial skin infection, says KidsHealth.

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    In severe cases, infected individuals may experience belly pain, nausea, weight loss, and loss of appetite. However, these are less than common symptoms.

    Will I be able to see pinworms?

    According to KidsHealth, it is possible to spot the worms in the anal region, especially if you look a couple of hours after your child has fallen asleep. You might see it in your child’s underwear, pajamas, or sheets, and in the toilet after your kids go to the bathroom.

    How to treat a pinworm infection

    According to the CDC, itching during nighttime strongly suggests pinworm infection. It can be diagnosed by collecting the eggs and examining it using a “tape test” once the person wakes up. Bathing, going to the toilet, or getting dressed is discouraged prior to the test because it can remove eggs from the skin.

    The good news is that pinworms is easily treated with prescription drugs or over-the-counter medication. Daily showers and changing of underwear can help remove a large number of eggs.

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    Because reinfection easily happens, good hand hygiene must be observed at all times — apart from proper handwashing, it would also be helpful to maintain short fingernails and avoid nail biting. An infected person’s bedding, towel, and clothes must be laundered in hot water. Towels should be changed daily until the infection is cleared.

    Kids should be bathed separately to lessen the risk of spreading the infection. They should also avoid sharing towels, clothes, and bedding.

    Don’t be scared if you spot the tiny, white worms on your child or self. The infection is quite common and mostly harmless. Just make sure to take the medicine and practice good hygiene to prevent the infection from coming back.

    READ THESE STORIES ON COMMON CHILDHOOD DISEASES

    A 6-year-old died from brain-eating amoeba found in his home's water supply. Click here for the story.

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