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What are pinworms?
Pinworms are small white parasites that live in the human lower digestive system. They are small, at half an inch long or smaller. Most often, they are the size of a staple. The name is also a description of these worms because they are pin shaped.
This parasite survives by getting its nutrients from the food you eat. The life cycle also depends on the eggs developing into adults. For this to happen, the host must ingest or pass the eggs to another person who ingests them.
How do you get pinworms?
We ingest pinworm eggs after touching infected surfaces and then placing your hands in your mouth. The eggs are tiny and lightweight, so breathing them in is possible. When airborne, the egg may land on food that you then ingest.
A female worm places pinworm eggs near the anus. The person will experience intense itching and may scratch the area.
That is when eggs get under their fingernails. Now the eggs are transferred to other people and surfaces when the infected person touches them.
This parasite can live on surfaces for up to two weeks. Reinfection is likely if all surfaces are not cleaned throughout the treatment process.
What are the symptoms of a pinworm infection?
The most common symptom is anal itching at night while sleeping. Restless sleep is likely. If the adult worm reaches the vagina, a woman may also have vaginal itching (vaginitis). If the infection is more severe, the symptoms may include:
- Irritability (from lack of sleep in discomfort)
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pains
- Unexplained weight loss
Although rare, an untreated infection can lead to appendicitis, bacterial infection, or a urinary tract infection.
How are pinworms diagnosed?
Intense anal itching, especially at night, is a strong indication of pinworms. The worms can be seen on underclothing or sheets approximately 3 to 4 hours after falling asleep.
The “tape test” is commonly used for diagnosis. A clean piece of tape is placed on the anal area immediately after waking in the morning. The worms or eggs will adhere to the tape. Now your physician can view the tape under a microscope. This should be repeated three mornings in a row for best results. If there are adult parasites, you should be able to see those with the naked eye.
Scraping anything from under the fingernails and viewing that under a microscope may also find the eggs. It is rare to find the worms or eggs in a bowel or urine sample.
Who is at risk of having pinworms?
Pinworms are the most common worm infection in the United States. They primarily affect children under 18, adults that care for the children and anyone that is institutionalized.
The population at highest risk are children ages 5 – 10. Taking care of small children increases the risk as well. These individuals come in contact with contaminated hands, diapers and clothing more frequently.
Nail biters are at increased risk of ingesting the worm eggs. The likelihood of ingestion is even higher if the nail biter is not regularly washing hands. For the same reason, thumb suckers are at increased risk.
Living in any group setting (ie: correction facility, hospital, dorms) increases the chance of infection. The eggs can be airborne.
Cats and dogs are not hosts for this worm.
Are pinworms contagious?
Yes, they can be passed from one person to another.
A female pinworm moves to the anus at night to lay eggs in a sticky substance. Her movement, eggs and substance all create intense anal itching. The host, most often a child, scratches their anal area. If they do not immediately wash their hands, the eggs stay under their fingernails.
The original host touches another person or a surface where the eggs are deposited. Anyone that comes in contact with the host or contaminated surfaces can pick them up. It is also possible to inhale the small eggs. For that reason, it is important to take precautions when cleaning all bedding or underclothes from an infected person.
How is a pinworm infection treated?
There are prescription and over-the-counter options for treatment. You will also find a variety of natural herb remedies on the market. The two most common ingredients in those products are wormwood and black walnut. When choosing an herbal remedy, do your research. Many have unnecessary fillers and artificial flavors or colors. It is best to talk to the doctor before beginning any medical treatment.
Everyone in the home needs to be treated at the same time. The ease of transmission makes it likely that more than one person is infected.
Reinfection happens easily. To avoid a second episode, it is important to follow all the steps in treatment. Just taking the medication or washing hands will not prevent additional infections.
Treatment needs to occur over a course of two weeks. The first treatment is not 100% effective at killing all adults and eggs. The second dose prevents a reinfection by eliminating any adults that may have hatched from remaining eggs. Whatever form of treatment you choose, the most important thing is to follow the directions provided.
Improved hand washing is key to treatment. It is important to wash under the fingernails. Frequent washing is necessary, but especially upon waking, after each bathroom trip, before and after handling food or after changing diapers. Just as important, discourage your child from scratching their anus.
The patient will need to take a morning shower immediately after waking. This is to wash away the eggs. A bath is not suggested because the eggs are not immediately washed away from the body and down the drain.
Now you need to treat the environment. Whether it is a home, daycare, school or other institution, the steps are the same. The eggs can be anywhere an infected person has been and the surrounding area. The eggs do travel in the air.
All underclothes, pajamas, bedding and towels need to be washed in hot water immediately after use. Set the clothes dryer to the highest setting possible. The temperature of the washer and dryer is more important than the brand of detergent you use.
You do not want to stir up the eggs and make them airborne again. When vacuuming, move slowly and deliberately. Empty the canister regularly and preferably outside. This is to prevent the eggs from being airborne again in the home.
Dust with a damp rag or oil cloth. Immediately after using the cloth, discard or wash in hot water. The eggs are light enough to be with the particles of dust.
Pinworm eggs are sensitive to sunlight. Opening the blinds and curtains helps to kill them off. That is especially important in bedrooms.
If reinfection happens, don’t worry. A second round of treatment can be given. The child may have a persistent case of pinworms or may have not followed each step as well as you would have liked.
Breaking down the stigma is also important to recovery. People tend to be embarrassed about having worms. Don’t be. These parasites can happen to each one of us. They’re highly contagious among children. They then bring the worms home to share with family members.
What many of us find difficult to do is tell the teacher or daycare providers. The fear of embarrassment keeps many from informing others. Remember, if you don’t tell others in contact with the patient, then the reinfection possibility is much higher. You do not want that!
Provide treatment, wash hands and clean the surroundings and all will get better.
The Go Nutrients team hopes you enjoyed this article and find more valuable information here that makes living a healthy lifestyle easier. We are a leading brand of alcohol-free, high potency liquid herbal supplements and vitamins. Our focus is on delivering premium products that are safe and effective. Plus, our products are MADE IN THE USA!