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Threadworms, also known as pinworms, are the most common form of worm infection in Australia. They are not a sign of uncleanliness and are extremely common in children as they can pick up eggs very easily from objects. A common misconception is that they are transmitted from pets. De-worming pets and children at the same time is unnecessary, because animals carry different worms and there is only a remote chance of children becoming infected with animal worms. Worms are easily treated with pharmacy medicines.
Threadworms look like pieces of white cotton and measure 5 to 10mm long. They may be seen moving on the outside of a bowel motion or around the anus.
When threadworm eggs are swallowed, they hatch as threadworms in the gut, and later move to lay eggs on the affected child or adult’s bottom, usually at night.
Eggs are highly resistant and can survive a few days or even weeks on objects. If children scratch their bottom, the eggs can get under their fingernails. The eggs can then be transferred to contaminate objects or other people and be swallowed, starting the cycle again.
Symptoms of threadworms
- in children, itchy skin around the bottom, especially at night
- in adults, itchy skin may be a sign of dermatitis
- loss of appetite
- tiredness from disturbed sleep
- teeth grinding
Sometimes there may be no symptoms with worms, but if you are concerned your children may have threadworms, you can check them after they go to the toilet or at night, for signs.
Rarely, people in Australia may contract roundworm, tapeworm or hookworm. These are most commonly caught from eating infected meat, especially pork that is killed at home and not checked by authorities. These types of worm infections are usually diagnosed by a doctor and treated with prescription medicines.
See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional
- if a child suspected of having worms is under two years old
- if you have recently returned from travelling overseas, especially Africa or Asia
- if there is blood in your faeces (stool)
- if you also have diarrhoea
- if you have lost a lot of weight quickly
- if skin in your anal area is broken from scratching
- if treatment does not work or the worms keep coming back
- if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as some medicines may not be suitable
- if you have other medical conditions or take other medicines
- if you have allergies to any medicine
- treat all the family, even if some family members don’t have symptoms
- while treating worms, have a shower at night and again the next morning to remove eggs
- undress children in the shower so eggs are washed away
- wash bed linen and towels in hot water, separately to other washing (wash bed linen daily until worms have been eradicated)
- vacuum carpet and furniture, mop floors to remove eggs
- medication only treats threadworm infections, they don’t prevent infections
- wash hands thoroughly before eating food and after using the toilet
- scrub underneath fingernails and keeping them short, so eggs do not lodge under them
- have a morning bath or shower daily to help wash any eggs away
- disinfect the toilet seat daily in the week following treatment for worms
- encouraging children not to scratch, suck their thumb or bite their nails; you may have to cut their nails short
- if children scratch themselves in their sleep it may be necessary for them to wear cotton mitts and tight-fitting underpants at night so the eggs don’t transfer to their fingernails and mouth
Threadworm treatments are available as suspensions (liquids), chocolate squares or chewable tablets. There are two main types of anti-worm medicines (mebendazole and pyrantel).
Anti-worm medicines (anthelmintics)
- mebendazole immobilises and kills the worms, partly by restricting their glucose intake
- a single dose is used in all patients two years and older
- the dose can be repeated in two weeks to make sure threadworms are gone, including any newly hatched worms
- mebendazole is not recommended during pregnancy, or for children under two years old
e.g. pyrantel (Combantrin Chocolate Squares, Combantrin Suspension, Anthel, Early Bird)
- pyrantel stuns the worms, then they are passed through the bowel
- read instructions and calculate dose by bodyweight
- give as a single dose and repeat in two to four weeks
- check with a healthcare professional to see if safe to use during pregnancy, breastfeeding or in children under 2 years of age.
Availability of medicines
- GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
- PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
- PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.