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Infant and Child Health

Pinworms

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Pinworms are tiny, threadlike worms that infect the digestive tract. Pinworms are most common in 5- to 14-year-olds, although anyone can become infected. The worms live in the upper end of the large intestine, near the appendix, and travel to the outside of the anus to lay their eggs.

The egg-laying almost always occurs at night and usually causes the child to scratch the anal area. When the child later sucks a thumb or licks a finger, the eggs are ingested and the cycle begins again. The eggs are very sticky and can survive on clothing and bedding for days, where they can be picked up by other family members.

Anal itching, especially at night, is the most common symptom of pinworm infection. If the infection is severe, there may also be loss of appetite, itching in the genital area, and pain when urinating.

Pinworms are common and affect many families. If you suspect pinworms, it's easy to find out for sure in your own home and at no cost. Go into your child's darkened bedroom 30 minutes after bedtime and shine a flashlight on the child's anus. The light will make the worms move back into the child's anus. If you don't see the worms after checking for 2 or 3 nights, it is unlikely that the child is infected with pinworms.

Prevention

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Teach children to wash their hands after using the toilet and before meals.

Home Treatment

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  • Ask your pharmacist for a nonprescription medication for pinworms. The medication may not be given to children younger than 2 years or used by women who are pregnant.

  • Treat every child in the house between the ages of 2 and 10. If infection recurs, consider treating everyone in the family who is older than 2.

  • On the first day of treatment, wash all underwear, nightclothes, bedding, and towels in hot water and detergent to get rid of any eggs and prevent reinfection. Sanitize toilet and sleeping areas with a strong disinfectant.

  • Trim and keep children's fingernails short.

  • Require frequent hand washing, morning showers, and daily changes of pajamas and underwear.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If a person has symptoms of pinworm infection, but you have not seen any worms. If this is the first infection, it is recommended that a health professional confirm the diagnosis.

  • If the pinworm medication causes side effects, such as vomiting or pain.

  • If you continue to see worms at night despite using a nonprescription medication. Stronger prescription medications are available.

  • If a person who has a pinworm infection develops any of the following:

    • Fever or abdominal pain.

    • Redness, tenderness, swelling, or itching in the genital area.

    • Pain when urinating.

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