It sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, but worms really can enter kids’ digestive systems and live there like parasites, feeding off the body. There are many different types of intestinal worms and because children’s immune systems aren’t fully developed, they are at a greater risk of contracting them than adults. So what are the symptoms, where do the worms come from, and what can you do about them?
Intestinal worms, round worms, tapeworms and toxacara worms can all cause a loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, a painful or even distended tummy, fever, coughing, and in the case of the most common UK worm, the threadworm, an uncomfortable itch at night around the anus and/or the vulva. Girls may also experience a vaginal discharge. Though very rare in the UK, toxacara infection also affects the sight. For some kids however, if they have a low number of worms wriggling around their digestive system, there are no specific symptoms.
Kids can catch worms from coming into contact with anything contaminated with worms’ eggs. That can mean the vomit or poo of an infected dog or cat from a litter tray or soil in the garden. The commonest way of ingesting the threadworm is when kids scratch the itchy worm eggs that have been laid round their bottoms at night, and then put their fingers in their mouths.
Once the worms have entered the body they start to lay eggs. The eggs hatch and the worms themselves work their way into the intestine, where more eggs are laid. Threadworms live for about six weeks. In rare cases, the worms can then move round the body and enter other organs such as the lungs or even the brain, in which case the condition is much more serious.
Worms can be passed out when kids go to the toilet, and one way of checking for an infection is to examine the stool, where the long, thin, thread-like worms may be visible.
It sounds unpleasant, but worms are easily treated with anti-parasitic drugs which your doctor can prescribe. Hygiene here is vital. Worm infection is much more prevalent in places where there’s poor sanitation. Teach kids never to handle animal faeces, don’t keep your pet’s litter tray in the kitchen or bathroom, and if you think a pet is the source, make sure it is treated too.
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