Pinworm infection, something I politely call “itchybottom”, is a fairly common cause of doctor visits. It is caused by the worm E. vermicularis and in medical terms we call it enterobiasis. The main symptom is itching in the anal area, which can be worse at night. The entire lifecycle of the worm, from egg to adult, takes place in our gastrointestinal tract. The lifecycle begins with eggs being swallowed and these hatch inside the small bowel. The emerging pinworms grow rapidly and then go to the large colon, where they attach themselves to ingest colonic contents. Almost the entire body of the pregnant female worm becomes filled with eggs; up to 16,000 of them! Some of the pinworms pass through the colon towards the rectum and emerge from the anus. While moving on the skin near the anus, the female pinworms deposit eggs.
Pinworms spread through human-to-human by swallowing pinworm eggs. The eggs are hardy and can remain infectious in a moist environment up to three weeks. After the eggs have been deposited near the anus, they are easily spread to other surfaces. The surface of the eggs is sticky and the eggs are readily passed to fingernails, hands, clothing and bed linen. From here, eggs are further transmitted to food, water, furniture, toys, bathroom fixtures and other objects. Parents sometimes can see the worms in the child’s stool or the worms and eggs around the child’s anus.
Although pinworm infections can be annoying, they rarely cause serious health problems and are usually not dangerous. Fortunately, there are good and simple treatments available so if your child is experiencing “itchybottom”, please make an appointment so we can determine if pinworms are the problem and choose the right treatment. The other children in the home may also need to be treated. Practicing good hand washing, cleaning the toilet often, washing the linens in hot water, and thoroughly cleaning all toys will help prevent reinfection.