What are threadworms?
Threadworms, also known as pinworms, are tiny parasitic worms that hatch eggs in the large intestines of humans. Yes, it sounds pretty unpleasant but they're common, mostly harmless and not that difficult to get rid of.
How to recognise threadworms
Threadworms look like small white pieces of thread, hence the name. The first sign is often (but not always) severe anal and/or vaginal itching, usually at night, and you might also notice them around your child's bottom, or in your or your child's stools.
Threadworm life cycle
Threadworms lay their eggs the anus or vagina, usually during the night. They also leave mucus <eeeuch>, which causes the itching. If someone scratches their bottom and then touches their mouth with eggs on their fingers, they swallow the eggs, which then hatch in their large intestine. Eggs left on the anus will hatch there and the worms will then re-enter the bowel.
(And you thought headlice were bad.)
How to treat threadworms and prevent them coming back
The good news is that threadworms can be killed with medication from your chemist. The bad news is that the medicine won't kill their eggs.
The only way to eliminate the threadworm life-cycle is through good hygiene - the whole family has to wash their hands (and bottoms) regularly. We're talking super-hygiene here.
Threadworms can survive for up to three weeks on a surface if undisturbed, so your mission is to make sure they don't have the opportunity.
With medication, you'll need to follow this routine for three weeks. Without medication, you'll need to continue it for six weeks.
- Wash all nightclothes, towels, soft toys and bedclothes at once; 40°C is fine as long as everything is well-rinsed. Don't shake any unwashed items, such as clothing and sheets, which may contain eggs.
- Vacuum and dust the whole house thoroughly, especially bedrooms, and damp-dust the bathroom and kitchen with hot water.
- Don't eat food in the bedroom, or you may end up swallowing eggs from the bedclothes.
- Keep all the family's fingernails short and discourage nail-biting and thumb or finger sucking.
- Wash hands regularly, especially before eating, after using the toilet, and before and after changing nappies. Remember to scrub under your nails.
- Make sure all the family wear close-fitting underwear at night and change it the next morning. Cotton gloves might help, too.
- Bathe or shower first thing every morning, especially cleaning your anus and vagina.
- Make sure everyone has their own towel and flannel.
- Keep toothbrushes in a closed cupboard or box and rinse thoroughly before using.
- There's no way to guarantee your child won't pick up another infection, but regular handwashing and hygiene will make it easier to treat.
Related: How to get rid of headlice
Treat the whole family
The risk of infection between household members is a depressing 75%, so it's important everyone in the family is treated, whether or not they have symptoms.
For anyone over two years old, the usual treatment is Mebendazole (also known as Ovex), which is available as a chewable tablet or liquid and stops the threadworms absorbing glucose, thus starving them to death in a few days. It's likely you'll all need to take the medicine again after two weeks.
Children between three months and two years old will probably be prescribed Piperazine, which comes as a powder to be mixed with milk or water. It paralyses the threadworms until they are passed naturally from the bowel.
If you're pregnant, breastfeeding or have a baby under three months old, you'll need to use the hygiene methods detailed above to deal with the problem. If this doesn't work, speak to your GP.
What Mumsnetters say about dealing with threadworms
"If you want to check if your child has threadworms, try waiting till she's asleep then looking at her bum with a torch."
"Wash jeans and joggers, PE kits etc. It is not always from pets, they can pick it up from other children at school and nursery."
"I have been told that increasing garlic consumption and eating grated carrot is good, as they kill the worms in the gut by acting like a natural disinfectant."
"Put a blob of Vaseline on a baby's anus at every nappy change so that, should he get infected, the worms won't be able to get their eggs to stick and won't be able to crawl back inside."
"Remove underwear carefully as the tiny eggs fall out and reinfect easily, apparently."