Threadworms are very common in children, but rare in adults. They are a parasite that passes from faeces to hands to mouth and is incredibly contagious. This infection causes intense itching around the anus and sometimes the vagina, especially at night – the need to scratch may even disturb your child’s sleep. You might notice tiny white worms around your child’s anus when they are active at night, laying eggs, or mixed in their poo.
Threadworms are very contagious, passing from bottom to hands or clothes to mouth, so it's important to get prompt treatment and re-treat two weeks later. Follow simple hygiene: wash hands and nails regularly, keep fingernails short and rinse the toothbrush before use. Children should wear underwear at night and wash it in the morning, and bed linen, towels, nightclothes, and soft toys should be washed on a high cycle after treatment. Everyone in the household should be treated, even if they have no symptoms.
You should try to avoid itching and keep fingernails short - avoid tights, synthetic materials or other underwear than can cause sweating, and make sure you pat the area dry after bathing. Products from your pharmacy can be used to help soothe and cool the area (such as aloe vera gel or menthol creams, or ointments or creams containing bismuth subgallate or zinc oxide). Products containing mebendazole 100mg such as Ovex chewable tablets or liquid are available at the pharmacy, and are licensed for use in adults and children over 2 years in combination with simple hygiene measures. A single dose is taken by all members of the family aged over 2 years. A second dose to avoid re-infection should be taken after two weeks. Children between 6 months and 2 years requiring treatment need a prescription as Ovex is not licensed for this age group over-the-counter. For children aged 6 months and under, treatment is with hygiene measures alone for six weeks. Pregnant or breastfeeding women are recommended to use hygiene measures only for six weeks, as treatment with mebendazole should be avoided.
If it seems like threadworms, there’s no need to see your doctor, your pharmacist can help pick out the right medication. If you are unsure of the diagnosis, or itchiness has persisted despite treatment and re-treatment 2 weeks later, book an appointment with your doctor. Similarly, if the itch is present elsewhere, your child develops a rash or you have other specific concerns, do see your doctor.
Children do not need to stay off school with threadworms.