Why do children get worms and what can you do to prevent it? : ScienceAlert

As a parent, it can seem like you’re constantly giving your kids worm treats, usually in the form of chocolate or sweetened chews.

In fact, most children in Australia (or any other rich country) have very few worms compared to children in places where poor hygiene practices make all kinds of worms common.

But there is one species of worm so common and so closely linked to humanity that it can defeat even our most thorough hygiene standards.

Small children are very good at spreading infections with these little pests. And they can become very irritable in the process.

An ancient species

Pinworms are an ancient species and have been found in 230 million year old fossilized proto-mammal poo. The closest relatives of pinworms that we humans have are in our closest cousins, the apes.

It is believed that our pinworms have evolved with us. The oldest pinworm eggs from a human host were found in 10,000-year-old dried human feces discovered in a cave in Colorado. Therefore, pinworms are very well adapted to live in and with humans.

Pinworm infection is present in between 5% and up to 50% of primary school children, although easy access to good treatments and school education programs have reduced levels over the past 20 to 30 years.

These worms are white and thread-like with females measuring up to 13 millimeters long. Males are less than half that size. They live in humans all over the world, especially in children between the ages of four and 11. They can also infect adults although usually with less negative effects.

Pinworms have been associated with a few other conditions, including types of appendicitis, vaginitis, and urethral infections, but these are not common findings.

The egg problem

The problem is usually not the adult worms, which live in the cecum (a pouch where the small and large intestines meet) for up to two months.

When the female comes out of the intestine to lay her eggs around the anus, usually in the early morning, it can cause irritation. But the biggest problem is caused by the eggs sticking to the perianal skin with an irritating glue. This is what causes even more irritation and itching.

In reality, the worm’s life cycle depends on the child or adult scratching their ass. When the eggs are scratched on the hands or under the fingernails, they can be transferred to other children at home or school, or to adults.

Very often they go into the child’s mouth where they can be swallowed and start another infection, known as “self-infection”.

The eggs are so light that they can infest pajamas, bedding, the bedroom and, in long-term infections, are found in house dust (although studies suggest these eggs are not viable beyond of a week).

Pinworm eggs are literally a pain. They can cause a child to scratch so much that they cause an inflammation of the skin called puritis. This becomes very painful and can lead to sleep loss and a very tired and irritable child.

So this is what happens to them…

There are many reasons why a child is tired and irritable. But if your elementary school-age child is behaving this way and has an itchy chest, pinworms may be to blame.

Pinworm eggs are so small that they cannot be seen individually, but females lay more than 10,000 in cream-colored clusters, which may be visible around the anus. The female is also visible when she lays her eggs, which means a check of your pup’s bottom when she’s nipping hard can be revealing.

Otherwise, a strip of skin next to the anus can be examined under a microscope for eggs. Your doctor can arrange this test.

The treatment is simple and easy to obtain from the chemist. Most brands of wormers use the same medicine, called mebendazole.

Each member of the family should take the medication and the dose should be repeated two weeks later to ensure pinworm control in the home. Contaminated clothing and bedding should be washed in hot water.

Other methods of preventing infection include regular hand washing and nail scrubbing. A shower with a good glute wash is also a good idea, especially in the morning.

It is also recommended to try to prevent children from sucking their fingers and thumbs, sucking on toys or other items that may carry eggs, although this is not easily achieved.

Although we have better control of pinworms in the 21st century, they are still among us and it is highly unlikely that we will be able to eradicate such a well-adapted and intimately intertwined parasite.

Mark Sandeman, Professor Emeritus, University Federation of Australia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Leave a Reply