Worm infestations are one of the major causes of stomach pain in children. Worms tend to live in the digestive tracts and feed off of the host's nutrition. This article talks about worm infestation and the importance of deworming.
Worms are parasites living in the different organ systems of the hosts and feed off of their nutrition. There are certain parasites whose hosts are us, humans. They may also infest other organs of the body, but in humans, most commonly they infest the digestive tract. There are various parasitic worms that can reside in humans, for example, flatworms, roundworms, and thorny-headed worms.
While parasitic infestations are not as predominant in developed countries, it is endemic to developing countries in the tropics and sub-tropics, especially in areas that are overcrowded and without proper sanitation.
Flatworms and roundworms most commonly result in parasitic infection. They can be found in a variety of habitats, and cannot be usually seen by the naked eye. The parasites which cause severe symptoms are:
Tapeworm - It is a type of flatworm and looks like a white, long ribbon. It enters the body by drinking water contaminated with its eggs or larvae. The other method is by consuming raw or undercooked meat. These worms get attached to the intestinal wall and stay there. This tapeworm can lay more eggs, which mature and travel to other parts of the body. Tapeworm can grow to 80 feet and thrive in a human for around 30 years.
Hookworms - These worms are transmitted through contaminated soil and feces. The larva of this worm can pierce your skin and enter the body if you walk barefoot on contaminated soil. They then hook on to the small intestinal wall and live there. They generally measure around half an inch.
Pinworms or Threadworms - They are a type of roundworms and are tiny and relatively harmless worms. These are the most common cause of worm infestation in children. They live in the colon or rectum when they mature fully, and the females can lay eggs around the anus during the night. These eggs can be found on clothes and linens. If you touch a contaminated cloth and then touch your mouth, you can get infected. And they are tiny enough for you to breathe them in.
Flukes - It is also a type of flatworm, which infests animals more than humans. Eating raw watercress and other plants sourced from freshwater are the main sources of these worms. Humans can also get infected by drinking contaminated water. Once they enter the digestive tract, they start living in your intestines, tissues, or blood. All types of flukes only measure around 1 to 3 inches in length.
Trichinella Worms - It is also a type of roundworm that are commonly seen in animals. Humans get infected by eating raw or undercooked meat containing their larvae. These larvae then mature and reproduce in the intestines.
Lack of appetite.
Sudden weight loss.
Bloody stool (dysentery).
While these are the common symptoms experienced by people with intestinal worms, some might not have any symptoms for years.
As children are exposed to the environment during outdoor play, they are most susceptible to get infested. They frequently get exposed by the following modes:
- Touching contaminated soil.
- Petting infested animals.
- Lack of personal hygiene.
- Not following proper hand washing steps and routine.
- Intake of contaminated food or water.
- Coming in contact with contaminated feces.
The doctor will diagnose the condition after a thorough examination and a detailed history of the symptoms. If needed, the doctor might suggest you get one or more of the following tests:
Stool tests - Worms that live and mature in the small intestine or colon can come out of the body in the stools. Your stool will be tested for the presence of worms or larvae.
Blood tests - Worm infestations can increase the count of eosinophils, which is a type of white blood cell.
X-rays - If the worms multiply and mature, they might become visible in an abdominal X-ray.
Ultrasound - To check for the worms in the intestine or other organs.
CT or MRI - Provides detailed images to detect worms.
Once worm infestation is confirmed by the doctor using blood tests, stool examination or imaging tests, deworming treatment in the form of anti-parasitic medications, such as Albendazole, Mebendazole, and Ivermectin are prescribed by the doctor to be taken once. A repeat dose after a period of six months may be given.
Parasitic worm infestation increases the risk of:
Intestinal blockages or obstruction.
These complications are more common in older adults, people with a compromised immune system (HIV patients), and pregnant women.
Since these parasites depend on our nutrition for their survival, they can cause anemia, malnutrition, and stunted growth periods. It is, therefore, imperative to prevent them in the first place or they can have long-term effects on health. Prevention is through the maintenance of proper hygiene measures:
Encourage the child to wash the hands thoroughly after play, after using the toilet and before eating, every single time.
Teach kids about the importance of maintaining personal hygiene through bathing every day.
Use effective disinfectants while cleaning the floor of the house.
Frequently change bedcovers and pillowcases in your child's room.
Trim your child's fingernails short always.
Discourage them from putting their hands in their mouth as a habit.
Do not allow them to share clothes, towels, and undergarments with friends.
Avoid eating out in places you are unsure of.
Ensure vegetables and meat are thoroughly washed and cooked at all times.
Drink only boiled, cooled water that you carry from home.
If you feel your child is infested with intestinal worms, talk to a doctor now through phone or video consultation!
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), all children living in underdeveloped and developing countries should deworm once every year.
In adults, if the prevalence of such parasitic infestations is 20 % in your country, then once a year, and if it is over 50 %, then twice a year.
As you might not have any symptoms even if you have been infested with worms, it is best to deworm yourself at least once a year. If not, these worms can lay eggs and multiply and cause various complications over time.
Some symptoms that point towards parasitic worm infestations are loss of appetite, anemia, fever, tiredness, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and itchy anus.
Side effects of deworming are rare. In some rare cases, children can experience dizziness, headache, nausea, and vomiting after deworming. This is just the effect of the worm passing through the body. Consult a doctor immediately if these symptoms do not go away even after a day.
Berberine, papaya seeds, pumpkin seeds, and wormwood are believed to help in deworming, but there is still no scientific proof.
Once you take the deworming medicine, the medicine starts working immediately, but it might take a few days to kill all the worms. It is advised to take a second dose after two weeks to prevent reinfection.
Worm infestation can inhibit the absorption of vitamins and essential nutrients, making the child anemic. It can also cause obstruction of the appendix, pancreas, bile duct, and intestine, which might need surgery. So, it is quite important to deworm children.
Deworming every month is not necessary. Once a year is more than sufficient.
Deworming medicine (Mebendazole, Albendazole) is usually prescribed as a single dose, to be taken once in 6 or 12 months. In some cases, the doctor might prescribe 6 tablets to be taken twice daily for 3 days. The dosage depends on the type of worm that has infested your child.
Humans usually get infected with intestinal parasites by eating or drinking food items contaminated with worms or their eggs. You can also get infected after touching a contaminated surface and eating without washing your hands.
The time to deworm yourself is in the morning on an empty stomach. This is because the medicine can directly act on the worms in the absence of food.
Deworming is most effective when done on an empty stomach. So if you want the medicine to kill the worms, take it on an empty stomach.
Side effects are extremely rare. But if they do occur, a person can experience dizziness, vomiting, headache, and nausea. Consult your doctor if these symptoms do not go away in a day.
You do not have to follow a special diet after taking a deworming medicine. You can have regular meals after taking medicines. It is known that eating food containing fat helps in the absorption of the medicine better.
Some say that eating a couple of raw garlic cloves in the morning on an empty stomach for a week helps in deworming. But, its effectiveness is still not known.
WHO recommends using a single dose of Albendazole or Mebendazole, once or twice a year, for kids starting from 1 year to 12 or 14 years of age.
Medicines that are used to deworm are called anthelmintics or antihelmintic. Mebendazole and Albendazole are the most commonly prescribed anthelmintics. The other drugs include:
In children, worms can be seen with the naked eyes in stools (bowel movement), and they usually look like very small pieces of small white thread. In some cases, they can be seen in the child’s underwear or coming out of the child’s mouth or nose.
A single dose of Albendazole 400 mg or Mebendazole 500 mg once or twice a year for children above 24 months or 2 years. For children below 24 months of age, 200 mg of Albendazole is recommended.
Yes, they do. Infection with parasitic worms can affect the kid’s growth and cognitive development (the child’s ability to think and explore things). In some cases, it can also be fatal.
Worms can be seen in the feces of an infected person. To confirm, the doctor will send your stool sample to the lab to look for segments of worms, their eggs, or larvae under the microscope.
The only way to know if the deworming medicine worked is by getting your feces tested after 2 to 3 weeks of taking the medicine. The absence of worm segments, eggs, or larvae indicates that the treatment was effective.
Last reviewed at:
04 Apr 2020 - 4 min read
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