The thought that you, or your children, may have threadworms probably makes you feel ill, not to mention wondering if your standards of hygiene and cleanliness have slipped. In most cases, hygiene is not the issue. Instead it is more the fact that threadworms (also known as pinworms) are fairly common in the wider environment, and easy to catch. The good news is that threadworms are easily treated.

How do you know if you have threadworms? Usually, there is itchiness around the anus, especially at night, resulting in disturbed sleep and irritability because of the constant scratching. In some cases, you can see the worms in a bowel motion. Some people have no symptoms, and it is only when another member of the household shows signs that the diagnosis is made.

The worms look like short pieces of white thread, about 5 to 10 mm long. After swallowing the eggs they hatch in the gut. Within a few weeks, the female adult worms move down the gut to the anus where they lay thousands of tiny eggs, usually at night when you are asleep. The irritating itch is caused by the glue the worms use to stick their eggs to the anus.

Threadworms are passed easily from person to person by sharing things such as food, clothes and utensils. Infection tends to occur more commonly in children because they play and come in contact with each other more often. Threadworms can be picked up from other people in the home, at school or at kindergarten. A child simply needs to scratch his or her bottom, which has been irritated by threadworms, for eggs to be trapped under the fingernails. Then when the child touches his or her mouth or food, threadworms get re-introduced to the body and the life cycle continues. Touching other surfaces leaves behind eggs for other people to catch. The best preventative measure to take in these circumstances is always to wash hands after going to the toilet, after touching objects that others have touched, and before preparing and eating food.

Threadworms are not spread from animals to humans, however, animals may be infected with other types of worms (hookworm, roundworm and tapeworm) which can be transferred to humans, but usually only in rare circumstances in New Zealand when animal/human contact is associated with lowered standards of hygiene.

Threadworms are easy to treat with medicines. Because the worms are contagious and easily passed on, when one member of the household gets them the rest are likely to as well. This means everyone in the house must be treated at the same time, and a single dose for each person usually is all that is required. Check with your Pharmacist or Doctor which threadworm medicine is safe for children under two years old or for pregnant women.



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