Most children have worms at some stage of their lives. It’s very common in Australia, and generally is due to threadworm, so named because to the naked eye they look like short pieces of white cotton cut up, except that they move and wriggle about in a most lively fashion. They may be found in freshly passed stools of an infected child. Or they often come out of the back passage at night and roam around the skin margins of the anal opening. In girls, they frequently wander off to the vaginal area, and can establish an infection there.
The eggs are laid on the skin around the anus. The part becomes itchy, so the child scratches it; the eggs lodge on the fingers, and are readily transmitted to others via toys or school equipment. From here they enter the mouth via the fingers, and so into the intestine, where the cycle starts all over again. Often all members of the family are infected at the same time, and frequently large numbers in the same class or school may similarly be affected.
The itch around the anus and vulva can be annoying, disturb sleep, and produce emotional upsets and irritability. Worms may get into the urinary system, or even block the appendix, causing acute appendicitis.
Often the eggs can be discovered when sellotape applied to the back passage is examined under the microscope by the doctor. Frequently parents find the worms in stools, or crawling around the anus if the child is examined at night-time.
It is best to treat the whole household at the same time. Several excellent drugs are available, and often a single dose is adequate. Medication (in many states) is available from the chemist without a prescription. Current popular ones are: Merbendazole (Vermox) tablets or suspension; Pyrantel embonate (Combantrin) tablets, suspension or granules.
They were very effective, but have long since lapsed into disuse. Even some of the new products caused staining of the .undergarments and lost their popularity.
Children should be instructed to wash their hands before handling food. Fingernails should be kept short. Bedding and bed gear should be washed thoroughly when treatment is started, toilet seats scrubbed, and the child encouraged to avoid scratching then putting hands in the mouth. It’s all a bit hard to police, but worth a try.
There are several other types of worms that infest humans, such roundworms and tapeworms, but they are relatively rare in this country. In any case. treatment is similar.