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What are Pinworms?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Nobody wants to think about it or admit it, but if you have an itchy behind, pinworms may be the cause. Pinworms, a member of the roundworm family, are one of the most common intestinal parasites in the world, infecting over 40 million individuals in the United States alone each year. While this parasitic infection may be bothersome, the main symptom being rectal itching, they are considered one of the least dangerous parasitic worms. While pinworms occur most often among school-aged children, people of any age and socioeconomic class can contract a pinworm infection.

Pinworms live in the human intestines, with an adult male pinworm generally measuring 1 mm (.0393 inches) to 4 mm .157 inches) long, and an adult female measuring about 8 mm (.315 inches) to 13 mm (.512 inches) long. The pinworm itself has a long, pin-shaped rear end, which gives the parasite its name. Pinworms are contracted through close contact with someone who has them, and ingesting the microscopic eggs that the pinworm female lays.

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It can take up to one to two months after ingesting pinworm eggs for pinworm symptoms to appear. It is at this point that the female pinworm migrates from the large intestine to the area around a person's rectum to lay more eggs. When the rectal area is scratched, pinworm eggs may be transferred onto the fingers and into a person's surroundings, where they can survive for up to three weeks. Pinworm symptoms are generally worse at night, when the female pinworms are most active.

Pinworms are generally diagnosed by a doctor from a stool sample. Adult pinworms may be visible to the naked eye, appearing like pale threads in an individual's stool. They also can occasionally be observed in or around the anus. Pinworms do not generally migrate to other areas of the body, nor do they cause any symptoms more severe than itching, however it can escalate to the point where the itching is so bothersome that a patient cannot get a good night's sleep. Pinworms are not zoonotic, meaning they cannot be transferred from animals to humans.

Pinworms can be treated with prescription or over-the-counter worming medications. While it is not necessary to treat all members of a household if one has a pinworm infection, it might be recommended in certain situations by a medical professional. Pinworm medications kill adult pinworms, and are thus administered usually in two doses, two weeks apart. Sanitizing household objects such as bedding and toilet seats is recommended, and observing good hygiene practices generally prevents reinfection. A doctor or other qualified medical professional can perform the required tests, prescribe the needed medication and give the proper guidance as to how to treat pinworms.

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