The idea of a human being having worms is not a glamorous thought. And this is one topic where gaining more knowledge will simply increase the ick-factor.
Unfortunately worm infestations are extremely common, especially amongst children. Research estimates that more than 3,5 billion people suffer from worm infestation worldwide, of which around 450 million experience illness as a result. The majority of these are children.
What are intestinal worms?
Intestinal worms are parasites or organisms living in the gut and feeding of the human body. There are many different types of worms, including the following:
- Tapeworms are a type of flatworm that lives in the intestine. It attaches to the intestinal wall and can grow up to 3-10 metres long.
- Hookworms have a hook shape, and enter the body through contact with unsanitary soil. are able to enter the body through the skin, for example when walking barefoot.
- Flukes are more common in animal, but can affect humans. They occupy the bile ducts and liver, and can lead to liver enlargement and inflammation and blockages of bile ducts. Symptoms can last for years after infestation.
- Pinworms are common and live in the rectum. They crawl out at night to lay eggs, which can cause anal itching and irritation.
- Trichinella worms can leave the intestines and live in other tissues like muscles. They can cause long-term health problems, and even death.
Who is most vulnerable to worms?
- Children under 5 years, simply because they play outside and do not always wash their hands before eating.
- Pregnant women – although pregnancy do not make you more prone to worm infestation, it makes you more prone to complications of worms. Some deworming meds are also not safe in pregnancy
- Immune compromised people are also more prone to complications.
How does a person get infected with worms?
- Soil transmitted worms (hookworms) are the most common and gain entry through a human’s skin when you walk barefoot.
- If an infected person scratch or touch their anus, or fail to wash their hands after using the toilet, worm eggs can easily spread from under the nails. These eggs can then be swallowed by another person who comes in contact with contaminated objects, like toys or utensils.
- In some case worm eggs can breathed in too,
- Eating contaminated meats, undercooked meats can lead to worm infestations.
- The eggs of the worms can survive 2 weeks on linen and clothes and still spread if the surfaces are touched and hands are not washed.
Symptoms of worm infestation
Most of the time there will be no symptoms, which is why it is so important to routinely deworm every 6 months. However, below are some symptoms that may show worm infestation:
- Anal itching
- Vaginal itching
- Restless sleep
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling irritable
- Weight loss
How can you confirm that your child has worms?
This will obviously depend on the type of worm. Sometimes you can see worms in the child’s stools. You can do a tape test by applying a piece of “scotch tape” or transparent adhesive tape to the child’s anus at night before bedtime. The eggs and worms usually pass through the anus at night. You should see the eggs and /or worms on the see -through tape. Take it to you Doctor to be examined. Repeat this for three consecutive nights if you don’t see anything after the first try.
Your doctor can also examine baby and may request a stool sample. However, diagnosis is not always confirmed and any child with symptoms pointing to a potential worm infestation should be treated.
Treatment of worms
Luckily worms usually responds well to treatment. If there are any concerns like e.g. anaemia (low iron levels) the doctor will prescribe iron supplements as well.
A healthcare professional will prescribe or recommend anti-worm drugs to kill the worms. For treating an active infestation, or if it the first time that treatment is given in a longer period of time, a three-day treatment prescription will be given. After this a preventative dose is given every 6 months.
You can successfully prevent worms by taking these steps:
- Firstly and most importantly, children and adults from one years onwards should deworm every 6 months. This as you can get worms despite taking the below measures.
- Teach your child to wash hands on a regular basis, e.g. before eating food, after going to the toilet, and after playing outdoors.
- If you have pets, deworm them 3-6 monthly and remove and clean up animal waste on a regular basis.
- Keep your child’s nails clean and short and discourage nail biting.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked fish or meats.
- Freeze meat and fish at -20’C
- Disinfect cutting boards that was used to cut raw meats.
- When traveling, buy bottled water
- Wash, dry and iron linen and clothes regularly.
- Avoid sharing towels.
- Teach your children to take a bath every day and to change underwear at least once a day.
What happens if worms are not treated?
If left untreated, one may get anaemia (low iron levels in the blood), dysentery (blood in the stools and infection in the intestines), seizures, muscle pains, and conjunctivitis (eye infection). In severe cases the eggs or worms may travel to the brain.