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Takeaways

  • Pinworm infections are common in young children, but not a major health concern.
  • The most reported symptom of a pinworm infection is itching around the anus.
  • Treatment usually lasts two weeks and includes an oral prescription and topical cream.
  • The best way to avoid an infection is with proper hand washing after bathroom use.

Pinworms are tiny parasites that live in the lower digestive tract. They are generally harmless but can be very uncomfortable.

Similar to lice, pinworms are parasites that spread through the transfer of eggs. A typical pinworm infection is characterized by the presence of small, white roundworms approximately the size of a staple found near the child’s anus. The most common symptom for boys and girls includes itching around the anal area. In addition, some girls may also experience vaginal itching or discharge.

The itching allows the pinworm eggs to attach to the child’s fingers. Once on your child’s fingers, the eggs can drop onto food or toys that other children put in their mouths, thus transferring the parasite. After being swallowed, pinworms travel to the intestines and lay eggs that are later excreted through the child’s bowel movements. Hand washing is essential to breaking the cycle of infection. It’s important to clean under your child’s nails, where more eggs are likely to be hiding.

Pinworms don’t carry disease and are more of an inconvenience than a major health concern, although the itching can be distracting and uncomfortable. Pinworm treatment usually consists of an oral prescription, taken once or twice over the course of two weeks to ensure all the eggs are gone. During this time, pediatricians might also recommend a topical cream to relieve the itching.

Ultimately, parents should be concerned but not alarmed by a pinworm infection and stay educated on the signs and symptoms of pinworm presence. Since the female worm comes out at night to lay eggs on the skin around the anus, parents may need to examine their child’s rectal area with a flashlight when they are sleeping. By placing and removing a piece of scotch tape on the anus, you may be able to spot a few of the worms, confirming the diagnosis. Daily bathing and frequent changing of underwear and bed linens can also help eliminate existing eggs, as they can live for up to three weeks on clothing, bedding, or other objects. In addition, parents should teach and monitor proper hand-washing at all times with young children, which not only encourages a lifetime habit of good hygiene, but it can also prevent or alleviate the symptoms of many childhood infections.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, January 2019

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References

  1. KidsHealth. What are pinworms?
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Pinworms.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hygiene-related diseases.

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