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Think you have a pinworm infection (again)? Here's what you need to know.

What Are Pinworms?

Pinworms, also called threadworms, are parasitic worms (nematodes) that can inhabit the rectum and colon. The pinworm's scientific name is Enterobius vermicularis. Quite common, especially in children, pinworm infections lead to anal itching, irritated skin around the anus, and even pain. Because the worms cause itching all through the day and night, pinworm infections often interfere with patients' quality of sleep as well. 

While those symptoms — which, by the way, not everyone infected with threadworm experiences — tell you that something is up, you won't necessarily know what particular parasitic infection you're dealing with unless you notice the presence of pinworms in your stool, or get tested. (In case you see something wiggling around in your stool, adult pinworms are about half an inch long, white in color, and just a bit thicker than decent-quality sewing thread.)

How Is  A Pinworm Infection Acquired?

More easily than you'd like!

Infected people who touch their anus will have eggs attach to their fingers, after which they can spread these to others through physical contact, fabrics such as bed sheets and towels, and through food. Unlike some other parasitic infections, pinworms cannot be caught from pets or spread to pets, as humans are the only carriers. 

Pinworm Infection Prevention And Treatment

Because prevention is better than the cure, we'll tackle that first. To prevent being infected with pinworm, or being infected again, wash your hands after going to the bathroom or touching your genitals in any way. Wear a fresh pair of undies every day, and wash your clothes, bedsheets, and towels frequently. Don't bite your nails, and don't scratch your rear if you can help it. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also specifically recommends that you bathe in the morning, after waking up. 

If you suspect you are already infected, it's best to see a doctor, even though medication is available over the counter in many places. Your doctor can make sure you have the parasitic infection you think you do, as opposed to something else. 

Once you have been diagnosed with a pinworm infection, you should:

  • Take antiparasitic medications, most often Albendazole, Mebendazole, or pyrantel pamoate, as directed. This usually means taking one dose immediately, and another two weeks later. This ensures that the life cycle of the parasite is completely quelled. 
  • Everyone else in your household should be treated at the same time, just in case they were infected too. 
  • Maintain meticulous hygiene, during this period and hopefully after. That means showering in the morning to get rid of eggs, washing your hands often and always after being in contact with your anus, and washing your clothes and other fabrics you are in contact with after using them once. You should generally avoid scratching, no matter how difficult it is, and avoid biting your nails, which you should keep trimmed. 

What If My Symptoms Don't Go Away Or Come Back?

Pinworms come back easily, so you should always suspect reinfection if you are still itchy after treatment or your itching comes back. Some people do report prolonged itching even after they completed treatment and are no longer infected, and this may be the result of psychological distress. However, symptoms should always lead you to wonder if you've been reinfected, and if you experience itching after completing treatment, you should see a doctor again. 

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