Pinworms are small parasites that can live in the colon and rectum. You get them when you swallow their eggs.
The eggs hatch inside your intestines. While you sleep, the female pinworms leave the intestines through the anus and lay eggs on nearby skin.
Pinworms spread easily. When people who are infected touch their anus, the eggs attach to their fingertips. They can spread the eggs to others directly through their hands, or through contaminated clothing, bedding, food, or other articles. The eggs can live on household surfaces for up to 2 weeks.
The infection is more common in children. Many people have no symptoms at all. Some people feel itching around the anus or vagina. The itching may become intense, interfere with sleep, and make you irritable.
Your health care provider can diagnose pinworm infection by finding the eggs. A common way to collect the eggs is with a sticky piece of clear tape. Mild infections may not need treatment. If you do need medicine, everyone in the household should take it.
Wash hands after using the bathroom and before preparing food. Wash bedding and underclothing frequently, especially those of any affected family members.
Pinworms are the most common worm infection in the United States. They are most common in school-age children.
Pinworm eggs are spread directly from person to person. They can also be spread by touching bedding, food, or other items that are contaminated with the eggs.
Typically, children are infected by touching pinworm eggs without knowing it and then putting their fingers in their mouth. They swallow the eggs, which eventually hatch in the small intestine. The worms mature in the colon.
Female worms then move to the child's anal area, especially at night, and deposit more eggs. This may cause intense itching. The area may even become infected. When the child scratches the anal area, the eggs can get under the child's fingernails. These eggs can be transferred to other children, family members, and items in the house.
- Difficulty sleeping due to the itching that occurs during the night
- Intense itching around the anus
- Irritability due to itching and interrupted sleep
- Irritated or infected skin around the anus, from constant scratching
- Irritation or discomfort of the vagina in young girls (if an adult worm enters the vagina rather than the anus)
- Loss of appetite and weight (uncommon, but can occur in severe infections)
Pinworm infection is fully treatable.
Anti-worm medicines are used to kill the pinworms (not their eggs). Your provider will likely recommend one dose of medicine that is available over-the-counter and by prescription.
More than one household member is likely to be infected, so the entire household is often treated. Another dose is usually repeated after 2 weeks. This treats worms that hatched since the first treatment.
To control the eggs:
- Clean toilet seats daily
- Keep fingernails short and clean
- Wash all bed linens twice a week
- Wash hands before meals and after using the toilet
Avoid scratching the infected area around the anus. This can contaminate your fingers and everything else that you touch.
Keep your hands and fingers away from your nose and mouth unless they are freshly washed. Be extra careful while family members are being treated for pinworms.