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What are pinworms?

Pinworms are little white worms about one quarter to one half inch in length. They live in the intestines.

How do they occur?

People, usually children, get infected with pinworms by getting pinworm eggs on their hands and then putting their hands in their mouths. The eggs are swallowed and go to the lower intestine, where they grow into worms. The worms move to the anus to lay their eggs. (The anus is the opening of the rectum, where bowel movements come out.) The worms usually lay their eggs at night. The worms and eggs make the anal area itchy. If the skin around the anus is scratched and the hands are not carefully washed, the eggs on the hands can get back into the mouth, repeating the cycle.

Pinworm eggs are usually passed from one person to another. The worms can live on the skin, toys, and other objects for several hours. If you touch your mouth with your hands after touching a contaminated toy or other object, you can become infected.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom is itching in the rectal area.

How is it diagnosed?

You may see the worms on your or your child's underwear. If not, there is an easy test for pinworms. It's called the tape test. You can test a child for pinworms by doing the following: When the child is asleep, put a piece of clear adhesive tape on the anal opening. Press the tape gently against the skin and then take the tape off. This can be done at night or in the morning before the child wakes up. If you cannot see little, moving, white worms on the tape, carefully put the tape in an envelope and take it to your healthcare provider's office. Your provider will use a microscope to look for eggs or worms on the tape. Be sure to wash your hands right after handling the tape.

How is it treated?

Pinworms are easily treated with a medicine prescribed by your healthcare provider. Usually the medicine is taken as a single dose, which is then repeated 2 weeks later. It is very important for the whole family to be treated at the same time. It is very easy for the whole family to become infected because the eggs are easily passed from one person to another within a household, from hands or fingernails to towels, sheets, and so on.

When you start the treatment, wash sheets, towels, clothes, and anything else that might have eggs or worms on it, such as toys, in hot water. Also make sure underwear is changed every day. Be sure that everyone is washing their hands before eating and after using the bathroom. Keep fingernails trimmed short.

How long will the effects last?

The itching should stop a few days after the first dose of medicine.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for taking the medicine and getting rid of any pinworm eggs in the house.

What can I do to prevent pinworm infection?

Careful hand-washing by all family members before eating and after using the restroom is the best way to prevent the spread of pinworms. It also helps to keep fingernails trimmed short to keep eggs from being trapped under the nails and more easily spread.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-07-16
Last reviewed: 2009-09-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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