Worms that inhabit one or several human organs, impairing their functioning, are known as parasites. They are a widespread medical problem; an estimated 1/3 of the world's population is host to one type of parasitic worm or another. Infestations are more common and serious in developing countries where sanitary conditions are poor and therapies inaccessible to most people. Each parasitic worm species has its own characteristics and preferred target organs. In Canada, the most common parasitic worms reside in the intestine. They are:
Only a physician can diagnose these worm infestations with a thorough medical history and laboratory analysis. Once the correct diagnosis is made, therapy is usually highly effective and easily tolerated.
Canada's most common parasitic infestation, enterobiasis, mainly affects school-age children. Pinworms inhabit the large intestine. Scratching the perianal area (especially at night), restless sleep, irritability and inability to stay in place are telltale symptoms of a pinworm infection. Abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also be present. The perianal area becomes itchy because that is where the female worm deposits her eggs.
The female worm deposits her eggs on the skin around the anus, usually at night, while the infected person sleeps. The worms, which are white and threadlike, are about 1 cm in length. They are easy to detect because they generally squirm around. Using a flashlight, one can examine the skin around the anus and collect a sample of the worms and eggs by placing tape, with the sticky side out, on a tongue depressor, for example. Press the skin around the anus using the tongue depressor then fold the tape over on itself. The sample can be brought to the doctor who will then be able to identify the worm under the microscope. Worms can also be seen in stool.
To get rid of pinworms, you need to take 2 doses of the prescribed medicine, 2 weeks apart. The 2 doses are necessary because the drug only kills adult worms and the larvae take 2 weeks to mature into adulthood. Family members and those who have been in close contact with the affected individual must also be treated to prevent reinfection.
Itchiness around the anal area may be relieved by applying petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or other medicated creams or ointments.
Pinworms spread through the direct transfer of eggs from anus to mouth. This happens when people eat food that has been contaminated by an infected individual who handles food without first washing his or her hands! Good hygiene is essential to preventing reinfection: keep nails short and clean, wash hands frequently, especially after using the toilet, change underwear daily, and do not scratch the perianal area. Pinworm eggs can survive outside the body for as long as three weeks at room temperature. It is therefore important to wash all bedding, clothing and toys in order to kill all the eggs. Additionally, children should wear closed sleeping garments (one piece pajamas) or tight fitting underwear when sleeping to prevent contact between hands and eggs.
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.