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Threadworms

  • Threadworms are any long slender roundworms, commonly found in preschool and school aged children. They often occur in more than one family member.

    Threadworms look like white threads, about 8mm long. They live in the lower intestine, but come out of the bottom at night or in the early morning hours to lay their eggs in the area between the buttocks. This causes very annoying itching in the area especially at night.

    Threadworms are spread by children scratching their bottom and carrying the worm eggs back to their mouth with their hands. They can also be spread indirectly, in food, dust, or other articles. The eggs can survive up to two weeks outside the body. Once these eggs are swallowed, they hatch in the small intestine and travel down.

    Threadworm infection is not usually serious and easily cured with medication. Repeat infections are very common and there are precautions you need to take to help prevent this and the spread of threadworms to others.

    Human beings cannot and do not catch threadworms from animals.

    Signs and symptoms

    If your child has threadworms, they may :

    • Have an itchy bottom which may become red and inflamed from scratching.
    • Be irritable and generally 'out of sorts'.
    • Not sleep very well.

    In girls there may be redness and itching around the vagina.

    Diagnosis

    You may be able to see threadworms if you examine your child at night. Take a torch, separate your child's buttocks and look carefully around the anus (and opening to the vagina in girls). You might see tiny white threads that may be moving.

    A diagnosis of threadworms can also be made by the "sticky tape test". You can get this tape kit from your GP. Do this test in the morning before your child has a bath or has a poo. Separate the buttocks, applying a piece of sticky transparent tape (eg scotch tape), to the area just outside of the anus and between the buttocks. Stick the tape on the skin, remove it and stick it onto the glass slide included in the kit from your doctor. Your doctor will examine the slide for worms or worm eggs.

    If your GP thinks your child has threadworms, they will suggest your child has treatment without any further tests.

    Treatment

    The good news is that threadworm infection, though very annoying, is not generally serious and is easily cured with medication.

    Your doctor will advise you on the best treatment. Drugs such as pyrantel (Combantrin) or mebendazole (Banworm) are very safe and often recommended. Special precautions may be given for children under 2 years of age and during pregnancy.

    It is recommended for the child to shower on the night the medicine is given and again the next morning to remove eggs laid during the night.

    Care at home

    Unfortunately, repeat infection is very common. To help reduce this and to prevent the threadworms from spreading to others, you can take the following precautions:

    • Treat all other family members at the same time. Adults can also get threadworms.
    • It is not necessary to "worm" the family when you worm the family pets-dogs and cats do not get threadworms or pass them on the people.
    • Encourage your child not to scratch, despite the itching.
    • Keep your child's fingernails clean and trimmed. Stop children from nailbiting or thumb sucking.
    • Have your child wash his/her hands with warm soapy water for at least 10 seconds after going to the toilet.
    • Launder bedding and toys in hot water.
    • Vacuum often, to remove any eggs. 
    • Discourage your child from eating food that has fallen on the floor.

    Developed by RCH department of General Medicine.  First published:  2003.  Updated June 2008

Disclaimer
This is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easily understood. The Royal Children's Hospital accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in the handouts.
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