Ask Your Pharmacist

July 31, 2019
Q:

My daughter’s daycare called and said there was a major breakout of pinworms. How do I know if she has them and what do I do if she does? If she does, should our whole family be treated?

A:

This question comes up a lot from parents whose children are spending time at camps or daycares, where it’s easy for children to spread germs to each other. Pinworms are easily spread from child to child in closed quarters like these. To become infected, one has to ingest pinworm eggs. How does that happen, you ask? I’ll explain everything you want to know - and wish you didn’t know - about how pinworms are transmitted, diagnosed, and treated.

Pinworms are small worms that can live in the intestines. At night, the female worms poke out to lay their eggs on the skin around the anus. This can cause an intense itch (an identifying symptom) which can lead to scratching, which ultimately leads to spreading. I recommend trying not to think about that too much, but this does help understand why children are most likely to spread pinworms as they are somewhat less hygienic than adults, generally. They also are constantly putting their hands in their mouths. I apologize if this has ruined anyone’s appetite! Once in a household, these eggs can also get into clothing, bedsheets, furniture, which can be disturbed and sent airborne where family members can breathe them in. So, if your daughter is infected, I suggest your whole family should get treated.

Itching in the anal region, especially at night, is the most common symptom for individuals affected by pinworms, and sometimes abdominal pain is present as well, but sometimes a pinworm infection can be asymptomatic. Some parents use the “scotch tape test” to confirm the presence of pinworms. This involves pressing a piece of scotch tape on the anus of the child. Upon removal, the eggs can be stuck to the scotch tape. Also, at night the female worms are laying eggs, so you can use a flashlight to observe them sometimes. It is also possible to see more worms in a diaper, or toilet after a bowel movement. All of these methods can be helpful, but it can be confusing to identify eggs/worms so I suggest seeing a health care professional to help confirm.

Any of these signs warrant treatment for the infected child and the entire household given the high rate of transmission. New Brunswick pharmacist can assess and prescribe for pinworms when appropriate, so seeing your pharmacist would be a good next step. The treatment is available behind the counter as a tablet and a liquid, and your pharmacist will help choose the appropriate product for you and your household. The treatment routine is a single dose to each member of the household which is then repeated in two weeks. After the first treatment, reinfection is common so retreating in two weeks in important.

There are other things to do at home to reduce your chance of reinfection, including keeping your children’s fingernails short, washing your hands regularly, and taking a shower or bath each day in the morning. This should help reduce the chance of carrying any eggs on the hand. Further to this, it is important not to scratch the itchy area. Washing clothes, bed sheets and towels regularly is important to remove any remaining live eggs, but when doing so, try to disturb them as little as possible. For example, don’t remove sheets with a vigorous shake that could send eggs into the air, spreading them and potentially breathing them in. Lastly, open up the window shades and let the sun in. Ultraviolet sunlight kills pinworm eggs and can help decontaminate bedrooms. Yet another reason to love sunlight!

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist at Guardian Pharmacy in Hampton and St. Stephen. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.