What is a Pinworm infection?
A pinworm infection is an infection of the large intestine caused by a small white parasite. The medical term for the parasite is Enterobius vermicularis, but it is commonly referred to as pinworm. These pinworms are tiny, narrow worms white in color and less than half an inch in length. Pinworms, like other parasitic infections, survive by feeding off the host. Hence, they depend on their host for nutrition.
Although any age group can be affected, the ones most susceptible to a pinworm infection are:
- Children of younger age groups such as those attending primary school, playgroups, or daycare
- People residing in crowded living spaces such as hostels, paying guests, or other similar accommodation
- Children with a thumb-sucking habit
- Children or adults who do not wash their hands before eating
- Family members or caregivers in charge of taking care of older individuals already affected by pinworm infections
Signs and Symptoms of Pinworm Infection
The symptoms of pinworm infection include:
- The strong urge to frequently itch the anal area at night.
- Restlessness and lack of sleep due to constant itching and discomfort.
- Presence of pain, rashes, or other skin irritations around the anal area.
- Presence of pinworms around the anal region.
- Presence of pinworms in stool samples.
- Vaginal itching and discharge may also be seen if the pinworm has reached these areas.
- Nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain may also be seen, but these are very rare.
Causes of Pinworm Infection
Pinworm infections spread easily from one person to another. A person becomes infected by unintentionally ingesting or inhaling pinworm eggs. Since pinworm eggs are microscopic, it is impossible to distinguish between healthy and infected individuals.
Once swallowed, eggs hatch inside the intestines and mature into adult worms in few weeks
Female pinworms move to the anal region to lay their eggs which results often in anal itching. When you scratch the itchy anal region, eggs cling to the fingers and get under the fingernails. The eggs then get transferred to other surfaces like toys, bedding or toilet seats
When an infected person touches household items such as bedding, clothing, toilet seats, or toys, the eggs are transferred to these objects
Children transfer pinworm eggs easily because they have a tendency to put their fingers or objects into their mouths
When to See Your Doctor?
Consult your doctor if you experience severe anal itching, especially at night.
- A pinworm infection is confirmed by identifying the presence of worms or eggs. Doctors perform a “Tape Test” for this purpose.
- A transparent adhesive tape or a pinworm paddle is used for this test. The tape or paddle is applied to the anal region. The eggs stick to the tape, which is then examined under a microscope.
- This test has to be done as soon as the person wakes up in the morning because activities such as bathing or bowel movements may remove most eggs and parasites.
The following are certain prevention measures:
- Regularly wash hands with soap and warm water.
- Wash your hands after bowel movements and changing diapers. Do the same before preparing and eating food.
- Keep your fingernails short and clean.
- Avoid biting of nails and scratching.
- Shower regularly and change clothing and especially undergarments daily.
- Use hot water while washing clothes.
- Keep rooms well lit during the day as pinworm eggs are sensitive to sunlight.
- Do not let kids bathe together or share towels during treatment and 2 weeks after the final treatment.
Treatment Options for Pinworms
The medication to get rid of pinworms include:
- Mebendazole: Usually, a single tablet is enough, but sometimes it may be repeated a week later if the infection persists.
- Albendazole: This may need to be taken along with other medications to reduce its side effects.
- Pyrantel: To treat pinworms affecting urinary and genital organs, combination therapy may also be prescribed by the doctor.
Pinworm infections are usually treated by three doses of medication, each three weeks apart.
Since pinworms are highly contagious, everyone in the household of an infected person is required to take treatment at the same time to prevent reinfection. Caregivers and others who have close personal contact with the individual should also receive treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the complications of pinworm infection?
- Bacterial infections from scratching the anal area
- Urinary tract infections
- Weight loss
- Vulvovaginitis, inflammation of the vagina
Do pinworms affect animals?
No, pinworms do not affect animals. They have only one host, humans.
Can children attend school with pinworms?
If the child has undergone and completed the treatment for pinworm infections, he or she can start attending school again. However, they need to be kept back if they are suffering from loose bowel movements.
Do pinworms go away on their own?
No, pinworms do not go away on their own, and treatment must be taken to get rid of them. People do not grow immune to pinworm infections.