As with most uncomfortable things in life, threadworms are something we'd all rather avoid.
What are threadworms?
Threadworms are (as the name suggests) tiny parasitic worms that measure between two to 13 millimetres long and resemble a small piece of white thread. They infect our gut and are most commonly caught by school-aged children, but babies and adults can catch them too.
If your child has threadworms, they won't cause her any harm and sometimes don't even cause any symptoms. But your child may notice itchiness around his bottom or vagina. This can get worse at night and can sometimes disturb sleep, making a child irritable.
How can I tell if my child has threadworms?
An indication that your child may have threadworms is if he has an itchy bottom and keeps scratching.
However, threadworms can be symptom-less, so the only way to know for sure whether or not your child has them is to check his bottom.
Gently part his buttocks and shine a torch around the opening of his bottom. If he has threadworms you may be able to see one or two crawling out.
You may also be able to see threadworms in your child's poo or on their bedding or pyjamas.
How did my child get threadworms?
Threadworms lay their eggs around an infected person's bottom, usually at night. They also secrete a mucus that causes itching.
The eggs are so small they cannot be seen be seen by the naked eye.
When an infected child scratches to relieve the itching, eggs may get stuck on their fingers, from where they could be transferred to their mouth when they eat or touch their face. Swallowed eggs then travel through the digestive system and hatch in the intestine.
Threadworm eggs can also be transferred from fingers to surfaces or clothes, where they can survive for up to three weeks and may be picked up by someone else touching the same surface, before touching their face or mouth.
How do you treat threadworms? Do we need to visit the doctor?
There is usually no need to visit the doctor as the infection can be treated with medication available at pharmacies without prescription.
However, if your child is under two years old, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and you think you may have caught threadworms, then you should visit your GP, as the treatment recommended in these circumstances is different.
If you or your child has threadworms, everyone in your household - regardless of whether they have any symptoms - will need to be treated, because the risk of the infection spreading is high.
For most people, treatment will involve a single dose of a medication called mebendazole, which is available as a chewable tablet or as a liquid to kill the worms.
This treatment kills the worms, but not their eggs, so it is important that you take extra hygiene precautions for the next six weeks to ensure no more eggs are passed on.
Bathe your child in the morning to wash away any eggs. Wash your hands frequently (particularly before eating) and scrub under your fingernails - and ensure your children do the same.
Keeping nails trimmed short helps, as does discouraging nail biting and sucking thumbs.
Put your child in cotton underwear at night and change her underwear every morning.
You will also need to give your home what is essentially an excessive spring clean.
Wash all pyjamas, bed linen, towels and soft toys. Throughly vaccuum and dust the whole house. Damp dust all surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom with hot water.
Don't share towels and keep toothbrushes in a closed cupboard and rinse them thoroughly before use.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, hygiene measures are usually recommended without medication. This is also often the case for young children.
Why does my child KEEP getting worms?
The most likely source is reinfection from himself. It can help to take a second dose of medication after seven days.
Do I need to keep my child home from school if she has threadworms?
No, it's not necessary to keep your child home from school. However, you should treat the infection as soon as you are aware of it and it's important to inform your child's school or nursery so they can ensure good hygiene practices are followed by classmates and staff to limit the spread of infection.
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