THREADWORMS - Watsons Health

THREADWORMS

Threadworms, also known as pinworms, are tiny, white parasitic worms that infect the large intestine of humans.  Pinworms are thin and white, measuring about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (about 5 to 13 millimeters) in length.

Threadworms are a common type of worm infection in the UK, particularly in children under the age of 10.

While the infected person sleeps, female pinworms lay thousands of eggs in the folds of skin surrounding the anus. Most people infected with pinworms have no symptoms, but some people experience anal itching and restless sleep.

How threadworms are spread

Threadworms lay their eggs around an infected person’s anus (bottom), usually at night. Along with the eggs, the worm also secretes a mucus that causes itching.

If the eggs get stuck on the person’s fingertips when they scratch, they can be transferred to their mouth or on to surfaces and clothes. If other people touch an infected surface, they can then transfer the eggs to their mouth.

Preventing threadworms

It’s not always possible to prevent a threadworm infection, but you can significantly reduce your risk by always maintaining good hygiene and encouraging children to do the same.

Children should wash their hands regularly, particularly after going to the toilet and before mealtimes. Kitchen and bathroom surfaces should be kept clean.

If your child is infected, encouraging them not to scratch the affected area around their anus or vagina will help prevent reinfection and reduce the risk of the infection spreading to others.

Symptoms of threadworms 

Threadworms often go unnoticed by people who have them.

However, they can cause intense itching around the anus (and the vagina in girls), particularly at night when the female worms are laying eggs. This can disturb sleep.

In some cases, you may spot threadworms on your bed clothes or sheets at night, or you may notice them in your stools. The worms look like threads of white cotton and are about one centimetre long.

Severe or persistent threadworm infections can cause:

  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • skin infection around the anus if bacteria enter any scratches caused by itching – wearing cotton gloves while sleeping may help prevent this
  • difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep (insomnia)
  • bedwetting

In very rare cases, threadworms can spread outside the intestine to the urinary tract or liver, or the vagina or womb in girls or women.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can confirm the presence of pinworms by identifying the worms or eggs.

As soon as the person you suspect has pinworms wakes up and before he or she uses the toilet, washes or gets dressed, press the adhesive side of a piece of transparent tape to the skin around the anus. The eggs stick to the tape.

For best results, perform the tape test three days in a row, and then take the pieces of tape to your doctor. Your doctor can look at the tape under a microscope to see if there are any pinworm eggs.

 

Medication

Mebendazole is the main medication used to treat threadworm infections. It can be bought over the counter from your local pharmacy or prescribed by your GP. It’s available as a chewable tablet or a liquid.

Mebendazole works by preventing the threadworms absorbing sugar, which means they should die within a few days.

This medication is 90-100% effective at killing the threadworms, but it doesn’t kill the eggs. This is why the hygiene measures outlined below should also be followed for six weeks.

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