If you’ve never heard of pinworms, consider yourself lucky. This common parasite affects up to 50% of school-aged children, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and are the most common type of intestinal worm infection.
Pinworm infections cause itchiness and are extremely easy to get, but tricky to treat. Here’s what you need to know to protect your family.
What Are They?
Pinworms are small, white worms that are usually less than a half-inch long. Pinworm eggs are inhaled or ingested from an infected surface, and then they settle in our intestines. Once the eggs hatch, female pinworms make their way out of our bodies and settle in the skin around the anus to lay eggs.
Symptoms of pinworms can either be nonexistent or truly unpleasant. Some sufferers experience itching in their anus or vagina as a result of the eggs.
Severe cases can cause loss of appetite, urinary tract infections and even appendicitis.
How Are They Spread And How Can You Avoid Getting Sick?
First, like almost all diseases, the best way to protect yourself from getting sick in the first place is through vigorous hand-washing (here’s the best way to wash your hands).
This is especially important after using the bathroom, changing a diaper and before preparing food. Pinworm is most common in children younger than 18, but it’s still easily spread between family members.
“As with so many infectious diseases, proper hand hygiene is the most important means of preventing the spread of infection,” said Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, in an interview with Consumer Reports.
You can spread pinworms through direct skin contact, by touching contaminated surfaces (including bedding, toys, faucets and toilet seats) or by ingesting them through hand-to-skin contact (i.e. touching your nose or mouth after touching a contaminated surface).
Pinworms are highly common in areas where kids congregate, such as schools, daycares and institutions.
Luckily, the treatment for pinworm is effective. Unluckily, eggs can live for two to three weeks on contaminated surfaces. So a thorough cleaning of your home after an infection is strongly recommended to ensure that all possible eggs have been killed.
Most treatments include two doses, and it’s vital that you take that second round of treatment.
“It’s important to keep in mind that you want to treat the child and all others in the family,” Jackson advised. “And then repeat treatment after two weeks.”
If you’re concerned that your child has pinworms, see a medical professional right away. Also, make sure to sanitize any affected linens or toys that might serve as a possible conductor of the parasite.