There are different types of worms some affecting humans and others affecting animals.
The three main types that affect humans are called the threadworms (sometimes known as the pinworm), the roundworm and the tapeworm.
ThreadwormsThese are very small white parasites that look similar to a tiny piece of white cotton. They are passed from person to person very easily and are more common in children.
Coming into contact with a person infected with threadworms can allow the eggs to be passed on and inadvertently swallowed. These eggs hatch and grow in the gut, and are passed through bowel movements and directly from the anus. During the night the hatched threadworms exit through the anus laying eggs on their way. These eggs cause itching and can then be passed to the fingers by scratching allowing them to re-enter the system via the mouth or to be spread easily by contaminating other surfaces.
Threadworms are spread mainly from contact with already infected people, poor hygiene and ineffective or lack of hand washing. The eggs can lay under the finger nails until passed on. They cause scratching of the anus and sometimes genitals and can be seen in the faeces or on the toilet paper when wiping. They are treated with anti-parasitic medications that may be a single use or may require a repeat treatment 14 days later to eliminate newly hatched eggs.
RoundwormsAlthough quite rare in the UK as they generally prefer a warmer climate, roundworms can still be found. These are much larger parasites and can grow up to 30 cm in length. They are pink in colour and can cause diarrhoea and vomiting if left untreated, though many people have no symptoms.
Again, the eggs are laid in the gut and then hatch and grow into mature worms that can then go on to lay more eggs; these eggs are then passed out in the faeces. The adult worm will continue to live in the gut until it dies when it will also be passed out in a stool.
Specialist medication is needed from the doctor to eradicate roundworms and usually come in a three day course of tablets; the medication paralyses or kills the worm which is then passed out in the faeces.
TapewormsTapeworms are far more common in animals than they are in humans but transmission is still possible through consumption of undercooked and infected meats. These worms have segmented bodies that can lay eggs. Suffering with tapeworms is not normally serious initially, but if left untreated can cause hunger and loss of weight.
Specialist drugs must be sought form your GP to combat this disorder. Often a stool sample is needed after treatment to ensure the remedy has been effective.
As with all treatments for worms, all of the family should be treated in case of cross-contamination and any pet faeces should be examined for the same reason.
PreventionFollowing these simple rules should help reduce the chances of developing worms of any sort:
- Always wash hands after going to the toilet; use a nail brush to ensure difficult areas are clean.
- Keep nails short to avoid eggs collecting underneath them.
- Wear underwear at night to prevent the spread to eggs to fingers if scratching the anus during sleep; and change every morning.
- Always teach children about the importance of hygiene and correct hand washing techniques.
- Make sure meat is cooked thoroughly especially when abroad when sanitation may not be to our standard.
- Wash hands after handling animals.
- Wash hands before mealtimes.
- Wear disposable gloves when cleaning up animal faeces.