A common affliction in toddlers and children, worms can actually be treated quite easily.
Worm infections, particularly from threadworm or pinworm, are very common in children, especially among the age groups where children put their hands in their mouths often.
“They are often contracted from children playing, swimming, bathing and sleeping together,” says paediatrician Dr Paul Sinclair. While the mere sound of a worm infestation sends ripples of revulsion down your spine, this common condition is actually easily treated.
An unwitting host
Apart from complaints about an itchy bottom, you may actually be unaware that your child has worms, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t up to a lot of mischief in your little one’s body.
Dr Sinclair explains, “The male and female worm spend all day in the colon feeding off faecal matter and procreating. Then, through clever built-in sensors the female worm senses that your toddler has fallen asleep because his heart rate and body temperature have dropped.
“She then wiggles her pin-thin body (which is about two to three centimetres long) down his colon and pushes her bum out of your toddler’s anus, where she lays hundreds of microscopic eggs while wriggling around.”
Euw! This is why the itchy feeling in the bum area that is associated with a worm infection gets so much worse at night.
Read: When itchy skin is a problem
Worms are a common cause of sleep disruption, and the irritability that is an inevitable result of this, in this age group. The worm’s little night-time manoeuvre may actually wake your child because he’ll feel rather itchy in that area.
“Often, the child then digs into his pants and scratches his anus because it’s intensely itchy. But this spreads the worms around his bed and clothing and results in him just reinfecting himself if his hand then goes into his mouth.”
A scary thought indeed! If the worms have actually made their way onto your toddler’s bed sheets you may just be able to see them – they will look like small white cotton threads.
Cleaning it out
Thinking of your child’s body as a host for these little creatures sure is creepy, but what can you do? Lots of people recommend placing sticky tape on your child’s anus to try to “catch them”, but Dr Sinclair says this is unnecessary.
“If you suspect your child has worms, then it is important that you deworm him, and the rest of the family as a precaution, using what we call broad spectrum anthelmintic medications containing either albendazole or mebendazole.
Make sure you also wash all bedding and mattresses in water that’s as hot as possible and detergent to prevent reinfection,” he says.
Also read: Is your child still wetting the bed?
Dr Sinclair also recommends that you deworm your child regularly every six months until school-going age (when you can just deworm annually) to keep your little one’s bowel clear of all commonly occurring worms. “You can start deworming children from as early as 12 to 18 months,” he adds.