The pinworm infection is the most common parasitic ailment to affect North American children. While they rarely cause complications, pinworms are nevertheless difficult to detect. That is why it is important to better understand this parasite in order to recognize and treat it quickly and efficiently.
Definition of pinworm infection
A pinworm infection is cause by small, white worms that measure from three to ten millimetres and develop in the large intestine of their host.
At night, the female worm wriggles out of her “nest’ to lay her eggs around the edge of the anus. These eggs are covered in a jelly-like substance, which, combined with the wriggling of the female, causes the infected person to experience severe itching.
Modes of transmission
These parasites generally spread in one of two ways:
- Eggs are transferred to the fingers or nails of the infected person by scratching and then spread to another person or to objects;
- A non-infected person inhales or swallows the eggs by touching the objects (clothing, sheets, etc.) belonging to an infected person.
Self-recontamination is common in children because they tend to scratch themselves and then place their egg-contaminated hands in their mouths or noses. The eggs then make their way back to the intestine, and the cycle continues.
Diagnosing pinworm infections
If your child complains of itching, examine the area around his anus with a flashlight when he is asleep. The worms are small, but visible to the naked eye. To obtain an accurate diagnosis, you can collect some of the eggs or pinworms using a piece of tape that you then fold over and bring to your doctor. This will help him prescribe the best course of treatment.
The entire household in contact with the infected person will need to be treated. In addition, since pinworm eggs can survive outside the body at room temperature for up to three weeks, the treatment must be repeated after two weeks in order to avoid a new outbreak.
Also, the toys, bedding and clothing of the entire family must be washed in hot water to eliminate any additional eggs.
There are a few hygiene measures that can help prevent or destroy pinworms:
- Keep your child’s fingernails very short so that he doesn’t pick up any eggs by scratching himself or touching other children;
- Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating and after using the toilet;
- Tell your child to avoid putting his hands in his mouth and nose;
- Have your child wear closed sleeping garments or snug underpants at bedtime and naptime to make sure he doesn’t scratch himself or infect his bedding;
- Change his underpants every day.
If you have additional questions about the pinworm infection and its treatment, talk to your pharmacist. He’s there to help!