Parents often find them gross. They freak out about them, and sometimes are even too embarrassed to ask the doctor about them. But don’t be frightened, they’re common!
I’m talking about pinworms. Pinworms are a form of intestinal parasite that look like pieces of dental floss. Up to half of kids, typically between ages 5 to 10, will get a pinworm infection at some point, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the most common parasitic infection in the U.S.
What to watch for
The most common symptoms are an itchy bottom and restless sleep. The itching is worst at night because that’s when the worms crawl to the area around the rectum to lay eggs.
You’ll likely find the worms in the anal region a few hours after your child has fallen asleep or on your child’s underwear in the morning. You may also see them in the stool.
How the infection spreads
Parents often ask, “How did my child get this?”
When kids itch an infected area (often their bottom), the microscopic eggs end up on their fingers. And if they don’t wash their hands, contaminated fingers can carry the eggs to the mouth.
When kids ingest the eggs, the eggs go into the intestines and grow for about two to four weeks before becoming worms. The worms lay eggs near the anus, and the cycle repeats.
The microscopic pinworm eggs can also lurk on surfaces such as bed linens, towels, clothes, toilets, food, toys and school lunch tables. If one child gets an infection, there’s a good chance it will affect the rest of the family too.
How to treat pinworms
The good news is pinworms pose little danger and can be addressed quickly. Infected kids take one tablet to kill the worms and another in two weeks to kill the eggs. The treatment is almost 100 percent effective.
I recommend the whole household gets treated to prevent kids and adults from being re-infected with pinworms.
Parents want to do everything they can to prevent pinworms, but unfortunately there’s no way to completely prevent all infections. Here are a few things you can do to decrease the chance of getting or spreading an infection:
- Wash your hands often and remind your kids to do the same, especially before eating and after using the bathroom.
- Wash your child’s pajamas every few days.
- Clean toys and surfaces regularly.
- Remind kids not to scratch around their bottom or bite their nails.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices conveniently located throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Lakeside Pediatrics located in Kenosha, Wis. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Landon Krantz, MD.