Pinworms are common among school age children and they are spread through direct contact of person-to-person. They may also be spread by touching items or surfaces contaminated with eggs such as food, bed linens, towels, clothing, bathroom fixtures, eating utensils, toilets and toys. They affect kids mainly because children tend to touch dirt and put their hands in mouth. However, you should not worry if kids develop pinworm infection, as it does not cause harm other than just itching.
Children unknowingly pass the eggs from surfaces and food to their mouths and when the eggs are swallowed, they begin to hatch in small intestines. When eggs enter the digestive system, they will hatch into larva in small intestine. The larvae of pinworm moves to the large intestine (colon) and they live there as parasites. The heads of the larvae attach to the lining walls of the bowel.
After about 1 to 2 months, adult female pinworms migrate to the area around the rectum of the large intestine and they lay new eggs. This triggers itching around the rectum and this is why you find that people with pinworms scratch their anal area. The eggs may also be re-ingested and they begin the cycle of by hatching and developing into adult worms. When deposited in surfaces, they can live for about 2 to 3 weeks. Pinworms infection is not spread from animals.
After the eggs are hatched, the worms mature in the colon or large intestine. Female worms migrate to the anal area of children especially during the night and they deposit more eggs. This situation causes itching and one risk about scrapping or scratching the itching anal area is that it can tear the skin and expose it to infections.
When a child scratches the anal area, eggs are trapped in fingernails and they can easily be transferred to surfaces and foods where other family members and children could pick them unknowingly. Pinworm infections are also known as threadworm or seatworm infections. They area also referred to as enterobiasis or oxyuriasis and are contagious.
What are the symptoms of pinworm infections?
Apparently, a person can have pinworm infection and show no signs. However, when signs are present, they manifest mainly in form of itching around the anal area. A person may have restless sleep because the itching is worse at night and is mainly caused by worms as they migrate to the rectum where they lay eggs.
In girls, the infection could spread to the vagina where it causes vaginal discharge. Bacterial skin infection may occur as a secondary symptom and this is caused by broken skin due to scratching. In children, you can notice pinworms in the anal area when the child has fallen asleep for about 2 to 3 hours. In addition, the worms may be seen in toilet when a child goes to the bathroom. You may also see the worms on the underwear especially in the morning and they are small and appear as tiny pieces of white thread. They are about the size of a staple.
In essence, a person infected with these worms will show the following signs;
- Difficult in sleeping and restlessness at night
- Intense itching around the anal area
- Interrupted sleep due to irritability
- Skin that is irritated or infected especially around the anal area
- Discomfort of the vagina in young girls because adult worms have entered the vagina
- Loss of weight and appetite though uncommon
Doctors can do tests to find out if there are infections of the worms. The doctor may place sticky piece of clear cellophane tape on the rectum and the worms will stick on the tape and could easily be seen under a microscope in a laboratory examination. The test can best be done at night or early morning before a child has had a bath. In addition, samples from the underside of the child’s fingernails may also be taken to look for eggs that might be deposited there.
Treatment and prevention of pinworm infections
If a child is infected with pinworms, a doctor is likely to prescribe an anti-worm medicine and if the infection has occurred repeatedly, the entire family may be treated even if there are no signs in other people. This is because it is likely that others are infected too and soon they will begin experiencing the signs.
The medication can eliminate the worms but the itching may continue for a week or so after the medication. If the itching is quite disturbing, a cream may be prescribed to help suppress it. It is very important for the entire family to emphasize on hand washing with use of soap. A routine practice of hand washing can help eliminate re-infections with pinworms.
Other preventive measures include cleaning the toilet seats on a daily basis with use of disinfectants. The fingernails should be cut short and maintained clean. All bed linens need to be washed twice a week and all family members should wash hands before meals and after visiting the toilet. Patients should avoid scratching the infected anal area as this contaminates the fingers leading to easy spread of the eggs and could also tear the skin. In addition, you should keep the fingers away from mouth or nose unless they are clean.