Dr. Pia Fenimore, of Lancaster Pediatric Associates, answers questions about children’s health on the Ask the Expert feature at LancMoms.com.
It’s spring, which means all the little critters of the world hatch and come out … and that makes pediatricians think of pinworms. That’s what you were thinking of, right?
Pinworms, or Enterbiasis Vermicularis, are a parasite for which humans are the only host. This means you cannot get them from the dirt, your cat or your dog. You can, however, get them from your children and your friends. Infection occurs most commonly in children ages 5-10 and does not discriminate among race or socioeconomic backgrounds.
You become infected by ingesting (eating, swallowing, breathing in) eggs or larvae. These eggs are most commonly found in the fingernails and bed linens of an infected person. At night, the female worms migrate from the small intestine, outside of the body to the anal skin folds. They do this to lay their eggs (our body temperature would kill the eggs if laid inside and, like a good mom, she is just protecting her young). The eggs become “infective” within a few hours and when they do, they become very itchy. The infected person scratches, gets the eggs under their fingernails and on their fingers, touches their mouth or eyes and — just like that — the life cycle of the pinworm has been propagated.
The eggs are able to survive for several hours on surfaces and linens (several weeks in cool, humid environments). This means that an unsuspecting family member or friend can then acquire them on their fingers and infect themselves.
Savvy little things, aren’t they?
The No. 1 symptom of infection is a very itchy bottom at nighttime. This affects sleep and can even lead to skin infections from scratching. While most pediatricians will make the diagnosis based on history alone, you can confirm the presence of pinworms by doing a “Scotch Tape test.” This is performed by taking a clear piece of tape and pressing it against the anal skin folds, thus picking up the eggs on to the tape. The tape is then placed under a microscope, where it is very easy to see them and confirm the diagnosis.