As a parent, it may seem like you’re constantly giving your kids worm treats – often in the form of chocolate or sweet chews.
In fact, most children in Australia (or other rich countries) get very few worms compared to children in unsanitary areas.
But there is one type of worm so common and so attached to humanity that it defies even our most stringent hygiene standards.
Small children are very good at getting infected with these little pests. And they can get really pissed off in the process.
Pinworms are an ancient species and have been found in 230 million year old proto-mammals. Humans’ closest relatives are found in our closest cousins, the monkeys.
Our pinkurts are thought to have evolved with us. 10,000-year-old dried human faeces found in Colorado cave reveal oldest camel worm eggs. Thus, pinkurts are very adapted to living in and with people.
Pinworm infection occurs in 5 percent to 50 percent of elementary school children, but rates have decreased over the past 20 to 30 years, with good treatment and easy access to school-based education programs.
These worms are white and thread-like, and the females are up to 13 millimeters long. Men are less than half. They live in people around the world, mostly in children between the ages of four and 11. They can also be transmitted to adults, usually with fewer side effects.
Pinworms are associated with some other conditions, including appendicitis, vaginitis, and types of urethral infections, but these are not common outcomes.
The egg problem
The problem is not usually the large worms, which live in the cecum (the pouch where the small and large intestines join) for up to two months.
When the female leaves her gut to deposit her eggs around the anus – usually in the morning – this can cause irritation. But the biggest problem comes from the egg sticking to the perianal skin with an irritating adhesive. This makes it even more irritating and itchy.
The life cycle of the worm really depends on whether a child or an adult scratches the liver. Eggs can be passed on to other children or adults at home or school when they are scratched on the hands or under the fingernails.
Often they travel to the scratching child’s mouth, where they are swallowed and start another infection, which is called “autoinfection”.
The eggs are so light that they can infect pajamas, bedclothes, the bedroom, and in long-term infestations they can be found in house dust (although studies show that these eggs do not survive for more than a week).
Pinworm eggs are literally a disease. They can scratch the child, so the inflammation of the skin is called puritis. It causes great pain, loss of sleep, and extreme fatigue and exhaustion.
So what’s going on with them…
There are many reasons why a child is tired. However, if your elementary school-aged child is behaving this way and has an itchy stomach, Pincourt may be the culprit.
Pinworm eggs are so small that they cannot be seen individually, but females lay cream-colored clusters of more than 10,000 that can be seen around the anus. The female is also visible when she lays eggs, so a bottom check may be revealing if your pup is very itchy.
Otherwise, an adhesive tape swab of the skin near the anus can be analyzed for eggs under a microscope. Your doctor can arrange for such a check-up.
The treatment is simple and easily obtained from a chemist. Most deworming brands use the same drug, called mebendazole.
The medicine should be taken by each member of the family and the dose should be repeated after two weeks to fight pincurt at home. Contaminated clothing and bedding should be washed in hot water.
Other ways to prevent infection include washing your hands regularly and brushing your nails. A good shower is also a good idea, especially in the morning.
It is also recommended, although not easily achieved, to try to stop children from sucking their fingers and thumbs, toys or other objects that may carry eggs.
Although we have improved control of camel worms in the 21st century, they are still with us, and it is unlikely that we will ever be able to eradicate such a well-adapted and tightly-knit parasite.
Mark Sandeman, Professor Emeritus, Federation University Australia.
This article is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.