Pinworm is an intestinal infection caused by tiny parasitic worms. One of the most common roundworm infections, pinworm infections affect millions of people each year, particularly schoolkids.
But if your child develops a pinworm infection, don't worry. Pinworms don't cause any harm (just itching), and it won't take long to get rid of them. And people who have pinworms aren't dirty — kids can get pinworms no matter how often they take a bath.
How Pinworm Infections Spread
Pinworm infections (also known as "seatworm infection," "threadworm infection," "enterobiasis," or "oxyuriasis") are contagious.
People become infected by unknowingly ingesting microscopic pinworm eggs that can be found on contaminated hands and surfaces, such as:
- bed linens
- clothing (especially underwear and pajamas)
- bathroom fixtures
- drinking glasses
- eating utensils
- kitchen counters
- desks or lunch tables at school
The eggs pass into the digestive system and hatch in the small intestine. From the small intestine, pinworm larvae continue their journey to the large intestine, where they live as parasites — their heads attached to the inside wall of the bowel.
About 1 to 2 months after a person acquires the pinworm eggs, adult female pinworms begin migrating from the large intestine to the area around the rectum. There, they will lay new pinworm eggs, which trigger itching around the rectum.
When someone scratches the itchy area, microscopic pinworm eggs are transferred to their fingers. Contaminated fingers can then carry pinworm eggs to the mouth, where they are reingested, or to various surfaces, where they can live for 2 to 3 weeks.
If you're wondering if your family pet could give your child a pinworm infection, it can't. Pinworms don't come from animals.
Signs and Symptoms
Often, someone can have a pinworm infection without having any symptoms. When symptoms are present, the most common one is itching around the rectum and restless sleep. The itching is usually worse at night and is caused by worms migrating to the area around the rectum to lay their eggs. In girls, pinworm infection can spread to the vagina and cause a vaginal discharge. If the itching leads to broken skin, it can also become a secondary bacterial skin infection.
If your child has a pinworm infection, you can see worms in the anal region, especially if you look about 2 or 3 hours after your child has fallen asleep. You might also see the worms in the toilet after he or she goes to the bathroom. They look like tiny pieces of white thread and are really small — about as long as a staple. You might also see them on your child's underwear in the morning.
Abdominal pain and nausea are less common symptoms but can occur if there is a high population of pinworms in the intestines.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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