Pinworms, also known as threadworms or seatworms, are tiny parasitic worms that infect the intestines and colon. An estimated 40 million people are affected by pinworms in the United States alone. While pinworms often cause no symptoms, an infection can lead to itching around the anus, restless sleep, and irritability. Understanding how you can get pinworms and prevent transmission is important.
How Are Pinworms Spread?
Pinworms spread through the ingestion of pinworm eggs, often through contaminated foods, drinks, or surfaces. The microscopic eggs can survive for up to 3 weeks in the environment. They also spread through person-to-person transmission. Here are some common ways pinworm eggs can spread:
- Touching contaminated surfaces or objects – Pinworm eggs can spread from contaminated surfaces like bed linens, underwear, pajamas, toys, bathroom fixtures, and kitchen counters. Eggs can spread through handling contaminated clothing or bedding.
- Touching the anus then touching your mouth – Eggs around the anus can get lodged under fingernails and spread to surfaces, food, or your mouth directly.
- Inhaling airborne eggs – Pinworm eggs can become airborne through ventilation systems or dust and infect people through inhalation.
- Consumption of contaminated foods – Fruits, vegetables, or foods prepared by infected individuals with unwashed hands can contain eggs and lead to ingestion.
Who is at Risk of Infection?
While anyone can get pinworms, certain individuals are at an increased risk:
- Children ages 5-10
- People in close living quarters like nursing homes
- Family members or caregivers of infected persons
- Childcare centers or preschools
- Immunocompromised individuals
Kids are especially vulnerable due to poor hygiene habits like inadequate hand washing. Close living conditions also facilitate the spread of pinworm eggs.
Top Ways You Can Get Pinworms
There are a variety of ways pinworm transmission can occur. The most common causes include:
- Not washing hands before eating – Hand hygiene is crucial to prevent ingestion of pinworm eggs. Kids playing then eating without hand washing can easily ingest eggs.
- Biting fingernails – Eggs under fingernails can spread to the mouth through nail biting.
- Eating unwashed fruits or vegetables – Fruits and veggies can harbor eggs if washed improperly after handling by infected persons.
- Walking barefoot – Eggs can collect on surfaces like carpets and floors and be picked up through bare feet. Wearing shoes helps prevent transmission.
- Sharing clothing, towels, or bedding – Shared linens or clothing can spread eggs through contact. Changing underwear and bedding frequently is recommended.
- Not washing hands after using toilet – Pinworm eggs around the anus can get on surfaces if hands are not washed well after bathroom use.
Proper hygiene like hand washing, showering daily, keeping fingernails short, and changing clothes and bedding frequently can prevent infection. Pinworms often spread among family members and households, but good hygiene and cleaning habits can halt transmission.
Preventing Pinworm Infections
Pinworms are highly contagious but also avoidable with diligent prevention habits:
- Wash hands frequently – Thorough hand washing with soap and warm water before eating, after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or touching possibly contaminated surfaces removes eggs and prevents ingestion.
- Shower daily and avoid scratching – Daily showers or baths and avoiding scratching the anal area prevents eggs from lodging under fingernails. Keep nails short.
- Change clothes and bedding often – Use fresh laundered pajamas and underwear daily, and change sheets and towels frequently to prevent reinfection from contaminated fabrics. Wash clothing and linens in hot water.
- Clean bathrooms and kitchen regularly – Disinfect sinks, counters, toilet seats, toys, and other surfaces with bleach solution to destroy lingering eggs. Vacuum carpets daily.
- Avoid sharing personal items – Don’t share clothing, towels, bedding or wear uncovered underwear around others. Wash hands after handling others’ belongings.
- Wear shoes indoors – Wear shoes indoors to prevent picking up eggs from contaminated floors or surfaces, especially in shared housing.
Pinworms can be frustrating but are easily avoided by staying vigilant about hygiene. See a doctor if symptoms persist despite prevention efforts. With diligence, the cycle of transmission can be broken.
Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Pinworms
How do you know if you have pinworms?
The most common symptom is intense anal or vaginal itching, especially at night. Other signs include: restless sleep, irritability, biting fingernails, grinding teeth, and bedwetting. Visible worms may be seen in underwear or bedsheets. Diagnosis involves a “Scotch tape test” of the anal area to detect eggs.
What foods can cause pinworms?
Any raw fruits, vegetables, or other foods that have come into contact with infected individuals and their eggs could cause pinworms if consumed unwashed. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products as well. Wash all produce thoroughly before eating.
Can pinworms be spread through clothing or bed sheets?
Yes. Eggs can cling to clothing, bed linens, towels and spread to others who handle them. Change sheets and underwear daily and avoid sharing these high-risk items. Wash clothing and linens in hot water and dry in high heat.
Can you get pinworms from pets?
No. Pets do not spread human pinworms. However, humans can give the infection to pets through close contact. Keep infected children away from pet bedding to avoid transmission. Certain pinworm species can infect dogs, but not humans.
How long does it take to get rid of pinworms?
Prescription anti-parasitic drugs like Albenza will kill adult worms. However, reinfection is common through eggs. Continue medication for 2 weeks to break the life cycle. Strict hygiene and frequent laundering of clothing and bedding is also key for 2-3 weeks to clear an infection.