When Your Child Has Pinworms

Pinworm shown at actual size.
Pinworms are half an inch long or smaller.

Pinworms are tiny white worms that are visible to the naked eye. They infect the intestines. Pinworms are generally harmless. They don't cause serious health problems. Your child can easily be treated with medicine.

How do pinworms spread?

Pinworms spread through the transfer of very tiny pinworm eggs. Contamination can occur if an infected person doesn’t wash his or her hands well after having a bowel movement or after touching the anus or buttocks. The eggs can remain on the person’s nails and hands and can be transferred to any object he or she touches. Eggs can survive 2 to 3 weeks on objects. You or your child can become infected by touching a contaminated item, then swallowing the eggs.

What are the symptoms of pinworms?

  • Itching around the anus and buttocks, usually at night

  • Vaginal itching in girls

  • Mild abdominal pain (rare)

How are pinworms diagnosed?

  • Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child and ask about your child’s symptoms and health history.

  • You may be asked to do a tape test. This involves applying the sticky side of transparent or cellophane tape to the skin around your child’s anus in the morning before any washing has been done. The piece of tape is removed and checked for the presence of worms or eggs. Your child's healthcare provider may give you a tape test kit, or you can buy one at a drugstore.

How are pinworms treated?

Prescription or over-the-counter medicine is used for your child. It's taken once, then again in 2 weeks. All other household members will also be treated as they likely are infected as well, even if they have no symptoms. Itching and other symptoms should go away within a week.

How is the spread of pinworms prevented?

Follow these steps to keep your child from passing pinworms on to others:

  • Teach your child to wash his or her hands with soap and water often. Handwashing is especially important before eating or handling food, after using the bathroom, and after scratching the affected area.

  • Don't allow your child to share cups, utensils, napkins, or personal items such as towels and toothbrushes with others.

  • Keep your child’s hands out of his or her mouth.

  • Wash any toys or items that your child places in his or her mouth.

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