You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ll only find hookworms, threadworms, whipworms and roundworms wriggling in the garden! The unsettling fact is that these are the names of intestinal worms and they’re actually found lurking in the tummy of your toddler and even though a worm infestation sounds much like a science fiction horror movie – worm infestations in toddlers is a very common ailment.
Threadworms are among the most common worms which affect kids (as well as adults). Threadworms have also been given the name pinworms due to their almost microscopic size (no bigger than one centimetre) and the name threadworm refers to these pesky parasites’ cotton-like appearance (strands or threads of white cotton). The worms are able to produce thousands of tiny eggs and these eggs cling to clothing, bedding, and linen and are even carried by dust particles. Once ingested the eggs hatch and a threadworm infestation occurs. The worms will hook themselves onto the unsuspecting host’s intestines and then suck up the blood and nutrients in the child’s intestines. A worm infestation is beginning to sound more and more like a Stephen King novel!
Besides the pinworm’s method of reproduction and infesting kids, worms as well as their eggs are commonly found on foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, etc). Children who spend many happy hours pottering in the sand or sandpit, will usually ingest worm eggs when playing. Family pets are also responsible for the spread of these awful parasites and when children play with their beloved dog – the eggs are ingested via the mouth or eggs (especially since kids are not too diligent about washing their hands after a game of catch with their furry best friend).
Tapeworm is found in pork or beef and the infestation of this dreaded worm occurs when eating the infected meat that has been undercooked.
The most common transporters of worm eggs and worms is contaminated food, water and soil and when children play in sandpits, the microscopic worms and their eggs can become lodged under the child’s fingernails and when they eat, or when they put their fingers into their mouths – they ingest the worm and an infestation occurs.
Signs of a worm infestation
One of the most obvious signs that a child is suffering from a worm infestation is if he or she complains of an itchy bottom. If the child is scratching around the area of their anus especially early evening and early in the morning, this is an indication that they probably have intestinal worms. Kids tend to scratch during the early hours of the evening or the morning as the worms come out of the anus at this time! (Not a pleasant thought at all).
If a child is infected with worms, because worms are parasites (and cannot survive without a host) they will be stealing the child’s nutrients. This means that a well-fed child will be robbed of their vital nutrients which are necessary for healthy growth and development. A chronic infestation that is left untreated will cause a child to lose drastic amounts of weight and because the child is not receiving the proper nutrients, their immune system will weaken and this will leave the child vulnerable to infections, and illnesses.
Children who have intestinal worms may also suffer from diarrhoea and will be constantly hungry.
In severe infestations, kids may even complain of tummy pains as the worms are in such high numbers that they actually form balls in the child’s abdomen.
With a parasite robbing the child of essential nutrients, kids will feel lethargic and generally unwell. A worm infestation will lead to an unhappy and uncomfortable child – therefore it is vital that worms are treated and eliminated.
Thankfully ridding kids and adults of these nasty parasites is relatively simple and parents are able to purchase over-the-counter de-worming tablets or syrup from their local pharmacies. If a severe infestation is suspected, parents may consider consulting their local GP, who may suggest a different course of action.
When de-worming children, it is important that the entire family be de-wormed at the same time and since the de-worming medication is affordable, a family of four can be de-wormed (with one dosage) for less than R80.00. A single treatment will eradicate all types of intestinal worms, including tapeworms, hookworms, etc.
Families who have pets must also de-worm their four legged friends and pet de-worming medication is sold at most grocery stores.
Children and adults must be de-wormed every six months and besides the de-worming treatments, families can also take preventative action to reduce worm infestations, such as:
- Keeping fingernails short;
- Washing hands before eating, after using the toilet and after playing outside;
- Keeping waterless hand-wash readily available when visiting the park or when camping;
- Washing fruit and vegetables well before eating;
- Making sure that all pork is properly cooked.
If parents suspect a worm infestation, they are urged to regularly (every second day) change bed linen. The soiled linen should be washed in hot water and hung out in the sun to dry. Mattresses should be aired out daily and if the toddler is potty training or wearing underwear, to ensure that the underwear is washed at high temperatures and sun dried – this will kill any remaining worms and worm eggs.
Besides over-the-counter de-worming tablets and syrups, many health-conscious parents prefer to use all-natural remedies to cure and rid children of intestinal worms. A lot of parents swear by garlic and garlic oil, as well as cider vinegar and pomegranate juice, however the effectiveness of these natural cures are not known and as such, it may be better to consult a homeopath, who will offer sound advice on how to effectively eliminate intestinal worms using natural remedies.
Another remedy is to rub the anus with Vaseline; this will ease the itch and will also trap the worms that come out of the anus at night or in the morning. This is more a symptomatic cure or treatment and will not eradicate the worms completely.
Once the worms have been effectively eradicated, there are no long-term side effects and within a few days the child’s appetite will return to normal and if worms were the cause of a child’s weight loss – the child will start to put on weight and their immune system will be strengthened.