My toddler’s got threadworms

What are threadworms? Here's how to avoid and get rid of them.

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Don’t be alarmed or embarrassed if you think your child might have threadworms – it is very common.

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Up to 40% of children under 10 are thought to have threadworms, also known as pinworms, at some point. The good news is: it’s easy to treat and won’t cause any lasting harm.

HOW DO YOU GET THEM?

Threadworms are highly contagious, as the eggs can live outside the body for up to three weeks and are easily spread, especially among young children, who often forget to wash their hands.

If your toddler is playing with a child who has threadworms, or touches a surface with worm eggs on then puts her fingers in her mouth, the eggs may be swallowed.

Once in the bowel, the eggs develop into 1cm-long worms that look like white cotton threads. The female worm matures and lays eggs around the anus, causing itching.

‘This itching causes bottom scratching – often at night during sleep – and eggs get stuck to hands,’ says Prima Baby‘s expert GP Dr Rob Hicks.

The infestation cycle continues if eggs are swallowed or transferred onto other items such as bedding, clothing and towels, which are then touched by someone else.

THE SYMPTOMS

The most common sign of a threadworm infestation is constant bottom scratching. Occasionally, threadworms can cause a mild tummy ache and they occasionally get into the vagina or urethra in girls, which may cause discharge or bedwetting.

If you think your child has threadworms, don’t panic. Gently check her faeces and anus for signs of worms – they’ll be small, white and very wriggly.

TREATMENT

Infected children should be treated as soon as possible. The rest of the family should also be treated at the same time. Threadworms can be treated with an over-the-counter medicine from pharmacies. Your pharmacist can give you appropriate advice. Children under two years of age will need to be seen by a doctor.

Children can still go to school or childcare, in spite of having threadworms.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, your GP will be able to advise you about suitable treatment, but in the first trimester it’s recommended you follow the hygiene method only, rather than taking medication. Worms die off naturally after six weeks.

PREVENTION

Drugs kill off the worms but do not kill the eggs, so it is essential to follow strict hygiene measures following treatment. They will also help prevent infection in the first place.

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Wash hands and fingernails before eating and after going to the loo
Keep fingernails short
Wear clean underwear at night
Discourage your child from putting her fingers in her mouth
Wash or shower around the bottom every morning
Avoid sharing towels or flannels
Wash bed linen, toys and sleepwear
Vaccuum the house, and dust surfaces with a damp cloth

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