What Are Pinworms?
The term "pinworm" refers toEnterobius vermicularis, a tiny, threadlike, white roundworm (formally known as a nematode) that infects the intestines of people.
Pinworm infections are typically called enterobiasis, but are also sometimes known as oxyuriasis or threadworm.
Enterobiasis is the most common type of worm infection in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Among high risk groups — children under age 18, institutionalized people, and those who take care of infected people — the prevalence of pinworm infection can reach 50 percent.
How Do You Get Pinworms?
Enterobiasis is contagious, and the infection can be passed between people.
You get pinworms by ingestingE. vermiculariseggs — which are moist, highly resistant to drying out, and can remain viable in the environment for a long time, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Adult female pinworms deposit thousands of eggs on the perianal skin (the area around the anus). You may directly expose yourself to these eggs by scratching the contaminated area and then putting your fingers in your mouth.
Once on your fingers, the microscopic eggs can also transfer and attach to many different surfaces — including toys, bedding, clothing, towels, toilet seats, sandboxes, food, drinking glasses, and utensils — where they can survive for 2 to 3 weeks if the surfaces aren't cleaned, according to the CDC.
The eggs can also become scattered into the air and inhaled.
Enterobius vermicularisLife Cycle
Pinworms can only infect humans.
Inside the body,E. vermiculariseggs hatch in the small intestine and take 1 to 2 months to mature. Adult pinworms then travel to the large intestine (colon) to mate.
At night — typically when their human hosts are asleep — pregnant female pinworms leave the anus to deposit their eggs in the perianal area.
The larvae inside these eggs can become infective in as little as 4 to 6 hours, the CDC notes.
It's possible for the larvae to hatch and travel back into the rectum, but it's unknown how frequently this occurs.
Many people don't develop any symptoms from enterobiasis, while others develop mild symptoms.
Itchiness around the anus and vagina — caused by the movement of pregnant female pinworms — is the most common symptom from a pinworm infection. This itchiness can:
- Be intense
- Disrupt sleep
- Cause irritability
- Lead to a bacterial infection from scratching
In rare cases, the nematodes can spread to the vaginal area and cause urinary tract infections.
They can also travel to the appendix and cause appendicitis-like symptoms — such as vomiting, abdominal pain, and reduced appetite — without causing any actual inflammation of the appendix.
Pinworms are treated with one of several antiparasitic medications, which are taken in two doses spread 2 weeks apart (the second dose kills eggs that may have hatched since the first dose).
These medications include:
- Pyrantel pamoate
Pyrantel pamoate is available without a prescription, but it's not as effective as the other two medications, according to the CDC.
It's important for all people within a household to be treated for pinworms, even if it's not apparent that they're infected and they don’t have any symptoms.
Good hygiene and proper care can help prevent the spread of pinworms and reinfection. Helpful steps include:
- Cleaning toilets frequently
- Showering every morning (showering is safer than taking a bath)
- Carefully handling underclothing, night clothes, towels, and bedding (don't shake them, orE.
Video: How to Treat Pinworms in Kids
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