Threadworms, also known as pinworms, are small white parasitic worms that infect and hatch eggs in the human large intestines. They are the most common form of worm in the UK to infect humans and are mostly common in younger children under the age of 10 - in fact they infect up to half of all children under 10.
They can grow anywhere between 2 millimetres and 13 millimetres long and they look like a thin piece of white cotton thread, hence their name. They don't always cause symptoms, but people often notice an itching around the anus or vagina which is likely to be worse at night. You may also notice the worms around your child's bottom or in their stools.
How do they spread?
Threadworms can lay their eggs around an infected person's bottom and they are mostly active at night. Alongside the eggs, they also produce mucus that causes the itching sensation. They spread through person-to-person contact as when the infected individual scratches, the eggs can get stuck under the fingertips and are then spread through touching infected surfaces and then transferred into the mouth. This is why strict personal hygiene is imperative when a child has threadworms and the entire family will need to be treated as at high risk of infection.
The threadworm life cycle is very simple: the infected surface is touched and eggs are transferred and ingested, these eggs that have been swallowed are then hatched inside the intestines. After 2 weeks, the worms will reach adult size, begin to reproduce and hatch eggs around the anus. These newly born worms will then re-enter the bowel and continue the cycle.
When to see your GP:
If you think your child has threadworms, you can usually get them treated with a pharmacy medication like Ovex Worm Treatment without prescription that will kill the worms in a couple of days and you won't need to visit your GP. You will only need to go and see your GP if you are pregnant or breast feeding and think you might have threadworms. You should also take your child to the GP if they are under 2 with suspected threadworms, as in these circumstances the prescribed medication will be different to what is recommended for most people.