Roughly 40 million cases of pinworm infection occur in the United States each year, and it most commonly affects children. Small round worms called Enterobius vermicularis cause pinworm infections, which is the most common of all roundworm infections. Pinworms are about a quarter to half an inch long and are predominantly present in the rectal region of an infected person.
When an infected person is sleeping, the female pinworm comes out of the anus and lays eggs around the anal region. Although it is not a serious disease, pinworm infection causes uncomfortable itching. It can be easily treated, but if left untreated, pinworms can multiply to a level that causes loose stool and diarrhea.
Mode of Transmission
Pinworm infections are more common in families who have children in school because it can be spread from person to person by physical contact. A person is infected by consuming pinworm eggs. A child can be infected when he or she is playing in a sandbox that contains the eggs or from an infected friend. If an infected child scratches the anal region, his or her fingers could pick up the eggs, which can stay alive for several hours on the skin. The eggs can survive up to three weeks on beds, clothes, and toys. If a child starts sucking his or her fingers or the toy that has an egg on it, then he or she will directly consume the pinworm eggs. Although pinworm infection is common in school-age children, anyone in the family can be infected. After a month or two, the eggs develop into adult worms ready to lay more eggs and spread infection.
People with pinworm infection often do not have any symptoms. When they are present, the most common symptom is itching around the rectum or anal region. The itching usually gets worse at night, giving the infected person a sleepless night and causing irritation. This disturbed sleep can also cause teeth grinding. For women and girls, the pinworm infection might cause vaginal itching or vaginal discharge. Sometimes, an infected person might also complain about abdominal pain and nausea. Some who have a severe pinworm infection may encounter a second bacterial infection due to scratching too hard around the anus.
Pinworm can be diagnosed by checking for symptoms such as itching around the anus. To check for infection, look in the anal region of the infected person two to three hours after they fall asleep. The adult worms are visible and look like small pieces of thread about the size of a staple. These worms can also be seen in underwear.
A tape test can also help detect pinworms. The doctor uses a piece of transparent tape and pats it on the region around the anus or rectum and examines it under a microscope for worms and eggs. The perfect time to carry out this test is immediately after the infected person wakes up and before he or she goes to the bathroom or takes a bath. This test can be performed at home or in the clinic.
Pinworm infections are easily treated. A doctor usually prescribes a single, chewable tablet containing the drug mebendazole, which kills parasites. A second dose of the same tablet is prescribed three weeks later if the infection is still present. Other medicines for pinworm infection include the anti-worm drugs pyrantel and albendazole. Both of these drugs are initially prescribed as single dose, then a subsequent dose two weeks later to prevent recurrence of the infection.
Recurring infection should be treated with the same drug that was used to treat the first infection. If an infected child is below two years of age, be cautious of side effects of these drugs such as stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and drowsiness. If one family member is infected, it is recommended that all other family members are treated at the same time, regardless of whether they have the symptoms. Although these medicines cure the infection, itching may persist for another week. Therefore, doctors might prescribe cream or ointment to reduce itching.
Some preventive tips that parents should teach their kids and should follow themselves include:
Washing clothes in hot water after every wear
Changing bed sheets often
Washing towels, bed linens, and toilets daily
Washing hands after changing diapers
Bathing early in the morning to help wash away eggs and worms
Keeping the windows open and lifting the curtains, as eggs are sensitive to sunlight and can be killed by it
Cleaning the floor, toys, and other surface that the infected person has touched
Vacuuming the carpets
Pinworm infection is common all over the world. There is nothing serious about the infection; it just causes itching. The best way to control the spread of pinworm infection is to create public awareness. Health care education detailing the importance of hand washing, maintaining a clean environment, and following hygienic habits will help reduce the chance of infection.