Threadworms - The common causes and how to treat them

We all dread the thought of an ‘infestation’. Threadworm infection is found across the world and is the commonest worm infection in the UK. The good news is that they don’t do any serious harm, and often don’t cause symptoms at all. The bad news is that they often don’t cause any symptoms at all – this means people can live with an infection for weeks or months, passing it on to others witout knowing.

How do they spread?

The average threadworm takes about 2 weeks to develop from an egg in the small bowel and lives for 6 weeks in the colon (large bowel). During this time they need to find a new host for their offspring to maximise their chances of survival. The squeamish might want to stop reading right now! The average threadworm lays an average 10,000 eggs, invisible to the naked eye. They emerge from the bottom (usually at night) to lay their eggs around the bottom or, in girls, around the vaginal entrance. Eggs caught under the fingernails from scratching can be transferred onto food or other surfaces, and from their someone else’s mouth, where the whole cycle starts again.

Who gets them?

For the reasons above, lots of close contact with others and less than ideal hand washing is the ideal way to pass threadworms on. That’s why children aged 5-9 are peak candidates – although because they’re so easily caught, whole families are often affected.

What are the symptoms?

Threadworm don’t cause tummy symptoms as they don’t burrow through the gut wall. Instead, most symptoms arise from skin irritation where they lay their eggs. This means itchy bottoms or, in girls, itching around the vagina, especially at night when the skin is warmest. Threadworm infection can also cause bedwetting or urine infections in girls. Some people have no symptoms at all, although they may see worms (like white cotton threads about 1cm long) in their stools

How are they treated?

Medicine to get rid of threadworms is the easy bit – usually a single tablet for every family member given at the same time and possibly repeated 2-3 weeks later will kill the worms.

Preventing re-infection from eggs is tougher. Eggs can survive for some time

  • Start with a really major springclean of the whole house, especially the bedrooms, on the day treatment is given
  • Wash all bedlinen, clothes and towels at the same time. Don’t sort the washing in the bathroom – eggs can be shaken out and land on all sorts of surfaces where they can be taken in again (including toothbrushes – think about it!)
  • Wear tight undies at night – this reduces irritation of the skin from scratching as well as cutting spread.
  • Keep the bedroom cool to reduce itching and scratching during sleep
  • Bath or shower in the mornings, and wash carefully round the bottom, patting dry with a separate towel. Keep separate towels for each member of the family
  • Keep fingernails short to reduce the risk of eggs getting caught
  • Wash your hands really thoroughly each morning, after visiting the toilet and before touching any food. Get the kids into the same habit
  • While your child should be fine to go back to school or nursery once they’ve been treated, do remind their carers about handwashing and hygiene precautions

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.