Threadworms are common, especially in children, & can easily spread. Read our guide to recognising the symptoms & managing it from the get-go
Threadworm, also known as pinworm, is the most common parasite infection in the UK. It tends to affect children between seven and 11 years old, but anyone can get infected.
What are threadworms?
There are many worms that can infect the human gut, but threadworms are the most common. Worms are between two and 13mm long and live for about five to six weeks before they die.
The female threadworm comes out of the anus (the bottom) to lay eggs, usually at night. This causes irritation and you may scratch, getting worms under the fingernails. If you happen to put your fingers in your mouth, the eggs enter the intestine and hatch, starting the cycle all over again.
Eggs are very hardy and can survive for up to two weeks outside the body. They can spread after shaking out blankets or changing clothes. Eggs can also settle on food to infect new people. Children often get infected by playing around other children who carry the eggs on their fingers.
What are the symptoms?
• Itching and irritation around the anus
• Girls may also get irritation around the vagina
• Tummy aches and loss of appetite in heavy infestations
Since symptoms are common at night, your child may also have disturbed sleep.
How can I be sure that my child has threadworm?
You may be able to spot threadworms in your child’s poo. You might also see them around your child's bottom (anus). This might be easier to do at night, as worms usually come out to lay their eggs while the child is sleeping.
Sometimes, the duct tape test is carried out to confirm the infection. Your doctor may ask you to do this. Press a piece of sticky tape against the bottom, early in the morning, before the child goes to the bathroom. The tape is then taken to a laboratory to check for any eggs stuck to the tape.
What is the treatment?
Speak to your pharmacist who may be able to provide you with Mebendazole tablets to kill the worms. Mebendazole also comes as a syrup or a chewable tablet for children aged two years and over, ask your pharmacist which is most suitable for your child. Since the infection spreads so easily, all family members should also take this medicine together with the child, even if they don’t have any symptoms. Let your pharmacist know if treatment is needed for a child under two years old or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Treatment might not be suitable and you may need to see your GP.
Only one dose is required for the medicine to work. A second dose may be needed after two weeks, if the infection has not cleared.
If your child still has symptoms after treatment, visit your GP for further advice.
How can I prevent reinfection?
Unfortunately, reinfection is always possible but there are some steps you can take to make this less likely:
• Wash all bedclothes and soft toys
• Vacuum carpets and dust with a damp cloth, and scrub clean all bathrooms and kitchen
• All family members should wear close-fitting underwear at night to avoid scratching, and take a shower first thing in the morning
• Avoid sharing towels
• Keep nails short
• Don't bite nails and avoid placing your fingers in the mouth unnecessarily
• Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food or eating, and after using the toilet or changing nappies
• Check if you can find evidence of threadworms and speak to your pharmacist for help
• All family members should be treated, even if they don’t have any symptoms (except pregnant, breastfeeding women or children under two – speak to your pharmacist)
• Follow hygiene measures to help avoid being infected again
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Most children get it at some point, usually under the age of 10, but occasionally adults can too