Common ailments

Threadworms

For the past few days, my three year old little boy has been complaining of an itchy bottom. He is constantly scratching and he gets particularly irritable at night. When I checked his bottom, it didn’t look particularly sore but I noticed what appeared to be tiny short white threads around the entrance to his bottom. What could this be?

It sounds as though your child may have threadworms (also known as pinworms). These are very small parasitic worms that look like pieces of fine white thread and which live on the contents of the human intestine. They lay their eggs around an infected person’s anus, usually at night. Along with the eggs, the worms also secrete mucus that can cause itching.

Anyone can catch threadworms but they are especially common in young children. Your son may have caught them by being around other children at nursery or preschool. Threadworms are usually passed on through poor hygiene and since children often forget to wash their hands after using the toilet, they can be left on anyone and anything he touches, including toys and clothing. If your son is infected, try to encourage him not to scratch the affected area to reduce the risk of the infection spreading to other people and perhaps supervise him to make sure he washes his hands after using the toilet.

Threadworms won’t cause your child any harm but they can be an itchy nuisance and should nevertheless be treated. Treatment is usually available from your local pharmacy without prescription. It would usually only be necessary to see a GP if the person infected is either a child under the age of 2 or a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding.

Left untreated, threadworms can survive in your child’s intestine for up to six weeks and possibly cause re-infection with new eggs, thereby prolonging the problem. Everyone in your household will also need to be treated due to the high risk of spreading the infection. It is important that you all follow strict hygiene measures during this time and for a few weeks following treatment to avoid spreading the threadworm eggs. This should include washing your little boy’s clothing, bed sheets and towels. Also, household surfaces should be kept clean and regular hand-washing by all should be encouraged, particularly after using the toilet and before mealtimes.

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