These are the most common type of parasitic worms. They affect children in developed countries, but while certainly annoying, they are essentially harmless. Pinworms are gray, thin, and a quarter to an inch long. They maybe mistaken for a vegetable fiber until they move.
The thirty-five day life cycle begins when eggs are unknowingly swallowed. Pinworms hatch in the small intestine and migrate to the colon (large intestine). After mating, females move to the anal area to lay their eggs, usually late in the evening. While this is taking place, children may awaken with itching (or pain in the genital area). The eggs around the anus are raked up when a child scratches this area and may return to the body when he sucks on a finger or puts his hands his mouth. The eggs can also be transported to toys or other objects, where they may be picked up by someone else. Pinworm eggs can survive outside a human body for approximately two weeks.
If you notice your child frequently scratching his anal area or if your young girl has pain in the genital area (which may increase with passing urine), check for pin-worms. You may be able to spot them if you check your child’s anal area with a flashlight a few hours after the child has gone to bed or its the early morning. If you suspect that your child has pinworms but don’t see them, contact your doctor, who may ask you to collect a specimen using clear cellophane tape. You can press the sticky side of the tape against your child’s anus a few hours after bedtime or in the early morning and reapply it to a glass slide the doctor may give you. Your doctor will then examine the slide under a microscope for pinworm eggs to confirm your suspicions.
Pinworms can be treated relatively easily with a single dose of an oral prescription medication called mebenda-zole (Vermox). This is sometimes repeated a week or two later. Your doctor may recommend that the entire family be treated. Pinworm eggs are so tiny (invisible to the naked eye) and so easily spread that it can be difficult to make your home completely worm free. You can reduce your child’s chances of re-infection by:
- Reminding them to wash hands after using the bathroom, or doing it for him if necessary.
- By keeping his fingernails short and clean.
- Regularly cleaning his toys and any surfaces he has touched.
You may also want to wash your child’s clothes and bedding or clean his room to prevent re-infection or the spread of pinworms to the rest of the family. But if the worms return even after a thorough cleaning, don’t despair. Ask your doctor for another round of pinworm medication (this time treating the entire family if it wasn’t done before), keep everyone’s hands as clean as possible, and eventually you will be rid of these unwelcome parasites.