What and Why? 

Threadworms are far the most common worm infestation of humans, which we do not share with any other animal. Eggs have been found in faeces 10,000 years old so they have probably been around as long as we have. Read all about it and discover some harmless tricks to beat this nuisance once and for all.

About 60% of school children and up to one in five adults are currently affected in developed countries, without much regard for poverty or social class; so most families have them at some time or other. Fortunately they are harmless but discovering for the first time that you or your children have them is a nasty shock and symptoms can be quite a nuisance. Getting rid of them is easy, but keeping free requires constant vigilance if you have school age children, or if your work puts you regularly in close contact with people.

Adult female worms are white and about 10mm long, so they are quite easy to see; their resemblance to pins or threads accounts for their various names. They live in your lower bowel and a few get excreted by accident, but they are easily overlooked in your faeces unless you are heavily infested. You will rarely see a male worm; they are smaller, and only survive long enough to fertilize a female. Her 11,000 eggs are then laid in relays, during expeditions outside your anus onto the skin of your buttocks, usually in the evening or at night. The worms’ wriggling movements set you itching; if you scratch yourself in your sleep the eggs get under your fingernails and all over your hands. From there you quickly spread them to your face, nose, eyes and mouth; others on your bedding and clothes can survive for anything up to two weeks before dying. A child who sucks his thumb can consume a great many eggs in a very few days and may consequently get so many adult worms in his bowel that they obstruct it and cause colic or are mistaken for appendicitis.

The female worms go on laying for four to six weeks before dying, by which time their eggs have had a chance to be consumed and develop in your intestine to adults in their turn; each generation takes about two weeks. So it only takes a month or so for quite a small initial contamination to become a serious nuisance in an unguarded family.

What can I do?

Advice to maintain and maximise your health

1. If no-one in your family has symptoms, relax. Your defences are pretty good already!

2. Maintain good hygiene: Get everyone to scrub their finger-nails with a good nail-brush (bristles still straight and springy) very first thing every morning, along with thorough washing of their hands and faces. This is the keystone of worm prevention. If you never swallow any eggs from your own worms they die out within six weeks and any chance infection from outside your family will get nowhere. Everyone will have to keep their finger-nails manageably short however, for this to work perfectly.

3. Wash clothes and bedding: If any of your children suck their thumbs or fingers and worms are about, get them to wear two pairs of pants at night (or one pair plus pyjamas) and launder these daily. Change all bed-linen as soon as you discover an outbreak, and be careful not to billow it about in your haste to get the job done. Keep dirty linen in a closed bin-liner or separate clothes basket until you can get it all washed.

4. Garlic: A whole clove of garlic with its outside skins removed as if for cooking, and moistened with oil, makes an excellent suppository to reduce heavy infestation. Be careful not to bruise the garlic, and to oil it well, or it will make the skin around your anus feel uncomfortably hot; but many worms will be shed with your next bowel action. Two or three cloves of raw garlic, chopped and swallowed quickly with water when fasting, reinforce and prolong this effect. Fresh horse-radish is a less readily available alternative.

5. Herbal remedies: It is hard for children to cope with hot-flavoured herbal remedies, so try these others instead. Raw rose-hips have barbs on them which ensnare threadworms quite effectively. Break the hips out of their pods, and mix them with jam or peanut butter so that you can swallow them whole. Grated raw carrot is also effective, and no hardship at all for most children. Sage tea (1 teaspoon of herb to pint of water) is a useful complement to either of these.

6. Powerful one-shot remedies are available from your doctor, but need to be repeated after two weeks to catch newly hatched adult worms. They are not a satisfactory method of long-term control.

7. Roundworms are much larger, the shape and size of earth-worms. They are also far less common, have a more complicated life cycle, and can produce significant disease in your lungs as well as your intestine. All the above measures still apply and will successfully protect almost everybody; but if you pass a large worm you should certainly consult your doctor to be sure the infestation is cleared up completely.

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