You've probably heard of threadworms. But unless you've experienced them for yourself, it's likely that you won't know very much about them.
Threadworms are extremely common in school age children – it is estimated that up to 50% of children under 10 may be infected. They can be transmitted from one child to another extremely easily, and require scrupulous hygiene measures for up to six weeks to be completely clear of them.
What exactly are threadworms?
Threadworms are tiny parasitic worms that infect the large intestine of humans. They're a very common type of worm infection in the UK and Ireland. The worms are white and look like small pieces of thread.
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You can often see them around the child’s back passage or in the child’s stools; and threadworms can cause intense itching – which is often the first indication that they are present.
How are threadworms treated?
The actual worms are easily treated using medication containing Mebendazole, which can be obtained from your local pharmacy as Ovex – in either liquid or chewable tablet form.
Many people are not aware that treatments for threadworms are also available throughout the pharmacy network on the Minor Ailments Service. So to have threadworms diagnosed and treated, there's no need to visit your GP for a prescription - you can avail of this in your local pharmacy. If required the pharmacist will supply a product free of charge to you and will discuss how to get the greatest benefit from your treatment.
However, the treatment does not kill the eggs which are produced by the threadworms; the only way to get rid of them is to follow good hygiene guidelines. If these measures are not followed, there is a high chance of further infection.
All members of the family should be treated - it is highly likely that if one member of the family is infected, everyone will be similarly infected. The Ovex treatment may be repeated 14 days after the initial treatment if reinfection is suspected. Every family member is treated with the same medication (except for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or under two years of age. In these cases the GP should be consulted).
When a child is found to be infected all the child’s bedclothes and sleepwear should be washed, and the mattress, bedroom carpet and bathroom should be thoroughly vacuumed to remove any eggs, which may have dropped off the body as these can survive for a period in the home.
It is also recommended that the infected individual’s nails should be cut short to prevent the eggs from lodging under the nails and therefore being transmitted to other individuals as well as re-infecting themselves. Children should also be discouraged from nail biting or sucking their thumb as these are common routes for swallowing more eggs.
After treatment everyone must be extra careful with personal hygiene – washing hands after using the bathroom and before eating – making sure to scrub well under the nails with a nail brush. If the child continues to scratch their bottom wearing cotton gloves at night may help.
In the home high standards of hygiene should be maintained in the bedroom and bathroom areas in particular, preventing re-infection and should be continued for six weeks to ensure complete clearance.
Children can easily pick up another threadworm infection from friends or at school, so maintaining good hygiene may help prevent another outbreak.
These measures may seem tedious and extensive and many families do not carry them out correctly leading to a high re-infection rate among children but they are the only way to ensure a completely successful outcome.