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Worms in humans

2-minute read

Several types of worm can cause problems in humans, including threadworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms and hookworms.

Threadworms, sometimes called pinworms, are the only common worm infestation seen in Australia. They usually occur in children and up to 50% of children may be infected at some time. Signs of an infestation include an itchy bottom, disturbed sleep, irritability, tiredness and a lack of interest in eating.

Threadworms are small parasites that live in the intestines of humans. They are particularly common in children under the age of 10. The worms are white, about 8mm long, with a blunt head and a pointed tail. They can live for up to 6 weeks.

The female worm lays many tiny eggs around the anus. This usually happens at night while the person is asleep since the female worms only come out at night. While laying the eggs, the worm also produces a chemical that creates an itchiness and causes the person to scratch the area.

Eggs then stick under the fingernails and on fingertips and can be transferred to the mouth. They may then be swallowed and cause a re-infestation.

The swallowed eggs hatch in the intestine. After a couple of weeks, the worms reach adult size and begin to reproduce.

You cannot catch threadworms from animals with worms. The only way animals may be responsible for spreading human threadworms is by transporting them on their fur after human contact.

Treatment for threadworms is designed to get rid of the parasites and prevent re-infestation. To successfully treat threadworms, you can see your doctor or pharmacist who will be able to advice on medication for you or your child. It is commonly advised to treat the entire family at the same time to successfully get rid of the infection.

When taking medicine, you should also ensure you follow strict hygiene practices to prevent re-infestation.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about worms, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: August 2017

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