A beam of sunlight projects through the window and across the bathroom. You notice the dust dancing in the golden light. You can’t see it, but floating in that pretty beam of light is a tiny little egg. It lands quietly on your child’s toothbrush. Read on for dealing with worms in kids!
From that tiny little egg, one of your children has just become host to the lowly thread worm. They will swallow it as they brush their teeth and it will hatch, grow and thrive in their gut for five or so weeks.
Near the end of it’s life, it will worm it’s way to their bottom, lay it’s eggs in a bed of mucus, and die. The mucus will irritate the skin, and without even waking, your child will scratch in their sleep. More of those little eggs will hitch a ride on their fingers or under their little finger nails.
The next morning, they sit and wait for breakfast, and mindlessly pop their fingers in their mouth, as children tend to do. You can’t see it, but another thread worm egg has just made its way down the hatch…
What are threadworms?
‘Worms’, or the threadworm or pinworm, are New Zealand’s most common parasitic infection. They’re small, thin, white, thread-like worms between 2 mm and 13 mm long. They live in human guts (intestines) and are common in children, but anyone of any age can be affected.
We know you can’t wait to find out what they look like, just make sure you’ve had your lunch before watching this rather graphic video (you have been warned!):
Video courtesy: aryaguima
The life cycle of threadworms
Threadworms live for about 5-6 weeks in the gut, and then die. Before they die, the female worms lay tiny eggs around the anus. Threadworm eggs can also live for up to two weeks outside the body.
Are threadworms in kids harmful?
Not really – although they can be a nuisance. They can be uncomfortable, irritating, and sometimes wake children at night. Large numbers of threadworms may possibly cause mild stomach pains and make children grouchy.
If one person in the family has threadworm, everyone will need to be treated. You can take precautions against threadworm by following the suggestions below, however, because they can be transported via dust, surfaces and human contact, the source may be beyond your control.
But don’t worry! Although it is an icky thing to think about, it is possible to rid your family of worms by following a simple protocol. You may sometimes see tiny thread like worms if you examine your child’s poo. Or you may notice eggs or threadworms around their anus if you shine a torch on it, after they have gone to sleep.
Sometimes the evidence might escape you, but worms still plague your family’s health. There are additional reasons why you should check, or treat the whole family, as a precaution, at least once a year. Left alone, threadworm infections can eventually solve themselves. But without intervention, just the innate child tendency to put fingers in mouths can keep the cycle going.
Symptoms of threadworms in kids
As a South Auckland family GP explained to us:
I think threadworms in kids are one of the greatest undiagnosed ailments in New Zealand schools. Big worm infestations can cause weight loss, tiredness, listlessness, fidgeting, urinary tract infections and inattention.
Has your child experienced any of these symptoms? Are they having trouble concentrating at school? Are they pale? Tired? Eating normally but losing weight? Might be time to take action against thread worm. Could it be that simple?
Treatment for worms in kids
1 Visit the chemist
Visit the chemist for your first action against threadworm. There are different types of worm treatment available, even for kids who can’t tolerate pill swallowing. There are tablets, suspensions, chewable tablets and even chocolate squares!
But don’t cut corners with who gets treated; treat all family members at once. With most available treatments, one dose, once, is all that is needed. The medication will kill the worms. However, if your child scratches any eggs that might remain, the whole cycle can begin again. So apart from medicating, you’ll also need to audit family hygiene.
2 Teach your family about hygiene
Teach your family to wash their hands using soap and a nail brush after waking and before eating. Help them to learn not to put their fingers in their mouths. Keep fingernails short and clean. Wash all the bedlinen and sleepwear in a hot cycle, because eggs can be transferred from clothing and bedding.
Eggs can live for two weeks outside their host. This is why it is essential to wet dust all surfaces with hot water and dispose of dusting cloths or paper towels as you go (re-using just relocates eggs to another surface). Consider how you store your toothbrushes, in a drawer or cupboard might be an idea, well away from eggs floating in airborne dust.
3 Occasionally check for worms
If only these measures were enough to keep threadworm permanently at bay! Thankfully, knowing the signs, occasionally checking your child’s poo and sleep behaviours are easy ways be vigilant and head it off at the pass.
Threadworms are rarely serious and easily eradicated following the simple steps above. Don’t let them worm their way into your home!
We hope this article has helped you in dealing with worms in kids. Two other dreaded conditions often picked up from school are school sores, or impetigo, and warts, or verrucas. To find out about how to prevent and treat these see our School sores and Warts articles. Or, for more expert health advice check out Health and wellbeing section.