No socio-economic group is immune to intestinal worm and parasite infestations. Children still get worms even if they bathe daily. There is no point blaming the day care centre or the crèche at the gym for poor cleaning practices. Children get worms and it is thought to effect 1:5 children between 2 and 10 years old at some time. Many children have worms and are unaware of their residence before they clear themselves without treatment.
Worldwide the most common worm is the roundworm but the threadworm (also known as pinworm) is the most common intestinal worm found in Australian children. More rare varieties are the tapeworm found in sheep farming areas, hookworm and whipworm. Ringworm is not an intestinal parasite but a relatively common and contagious fungal skin infection.
Threadworms live in the human digestive tract and are seen in poo. They are ivory in colour and 2 -13 mm long. The female adult worm crawls out the anus to lay eggs and dies when her duty is done. The cycle would end here if eggs hatched and young worms died before entering the human digestive system, however, eggs can live for days and even weeks in favourable conditions on toilet seats, baths, benches, bed sheets, pyjamas, under fingernails and eating utensils. They are ingested when contaminated fingers enter the mouth. They hatch in the small intestine and travel down the bowel as they mature and the cycle continues.
Signs and symptoms of threadworms include itchy bottom (when worms are crawling around the anus), visible worms in poo or around the anal area (seen at night using a torch or first thing in the morning) restless sleep, teeth grinding, hyperactivity, irritability, bedwetting (irritated urethra), stomach aches, nausea and vomiting. Childhood habits like itching bottoms and putting fingers in mouths, sucking thumbs and chewing fingernails and toys, playing in dirt and sandpits, sharing lunch tables and benches and generally playing close to other children make it easy to spread eggs no matter how often hands are washed. Day Care environments are ideal for rapid spreading of worms as children play, eat and toilet in close proximity.
Thankfully, treatment is an easy over the counter medication that is taken once. ‘Merbendozole’ and ‘Pyrantel’ are the active ingredients that either kill or paralysis and purge the adult worms. A second dose may be required after two weeks if new eggs hatch. ‘Pyrantel’ can be used for 1 year olds but most treatments are for 2 year olds and above. If heavy infestations are left untreated it can lead to urinary tract infections, weight loss and other infections. Treat the whole family at the same time and wash the family dog to prevent reinfestation. Dogs cannot pass on threadworms to humans unless their fur had been contaminated by eggs from someone patting them. Prevent reinfestation with good personal and family hygiene – regularly cleaning toilet seats, baths and benches, regularly washing children’s bed linen, pyjamas and undies, encouraging effective hand washing after play, before meals and after toileting, keeping fingernails short and discouraging thumb sucking and nail biting.
Roundworms are not passed on from human to human but are picked up from contaminated soil, food and water. Commonly found in densely populated underdeveloped countries with inefficient sanitary methods of disposing of human waste.
Signs and symptoms of round worm infestation include bloody diarrhoea, upper abdominal discomfort, visible worms in poo, nose or mouth. In severe cases worms travel to lungs and other organs causing wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing.
Treatment is over the counter ‘merbendozole’ and ‘pyrantel’ preparations but if symptoms are severe or you have been travelling to underdeveloped countries professional advice is recommended.
This article was brought to you by Jan Murray, Private Child Health Consultant who is an internationally renowned expert in her field. Jan encourages parents in the area of infant sleep, nutrition, activities and family balance. She publishes regular ezine and blog articles to provide free parenting tips, tools and resources to educate and support those caring for young babies and children. For more online resources visit http://www.settlepetal.com