While other types of worms can be picked up on visits abroad, only threadworms are commonly found in the UK, and then mostly in children. Threadworms are unpleasant but harmless, although they will make you itch. You can get rid of them with the help of medicines bought at your local pharmacy.
How Do I Know If I Have Worms?
Threadworms will sometimes be visible in your stools after a bowel movement, or on your buttocks. They are short, white and very thin. But the most obvious symptom is itchiness around the anus (back passage).
This is where the female worms lay their eggs after coming out of the gut at night. If you scratch yourself, the eggs can get under your fingernails and then either spread or return into your body through the mouth (e.g., if you bite your nails, suck your fingers or handle food before eating it). You are unlikely to notice any symptoms of infestation while the worms are inside you.
Threadworms are often passed on at schools and nurseries, where the eggs can be picked up from sand or soil. Worms in general can be transmitted through undercooked meat, vegetables if they are not washed or cooked properly, water or animal faeces (e.g., dog dirt).
What Can I Do Immediately If I catch Worms?
• Ask your pharmacist about suitable treatments. You will probably have to use them on your whole family and anyone else close to you.
• Wash your hands after going to the toilet and before every meal. You should scrub your fingernails before eating as well.
• Keep your fingernails cut short and do not bite them.
• Try not to touch your mouth or nose with your fingers. Children with worms should not suck their fingers.
• Have a shower or bath first thing in the morning to wash away any eggs laid overnight.
• Wear pyjamas in bed to avoid scratching the affected area.
• Change your bed-sheets, bed-clothes and underwear often. Wash and iron them at a high temperature.
• Regularly put a fresh hand towel in the toilet.
• Have separate flannels and towels for washing/drying your upper and lower body.
What Can I Do Generally To Avoid Worms?
• Do not handle or let children near animal faeces.
• Wash your hands after touching animals.
• Have any pets treated regularly for worms.
• Always wash your hands after going to the toilet and before eating.
• Always wash and cook food properly.
What Treatments Can I Buy Without A Prescription?
Your local pharmacy can supply you with medicines for getting rid of threadworm. These contain either mebendazole or piperazine in tablet, liquid or dissolvable powder form. You should also follow the recommendations on hygiene mentioned above.
Ask the pharmacist for advice and follow the label instructions carefully. Some of these products are only for children over two years old and none of them should be given to a child under the age of one, unless a doctor specifically recommends it.
In addition, pregnant women should not take worm treatments containing mebendazole, while piperazine should not be used by epileptics or anyone with liver or kidney disease.
When Do I Need To See A Doctor?
• If you are not sure whether you have worms. If possible, you should take a stool sample along with you.
• If the treatment recommended above does not get rid of the worms.
• If you have worms and have recently visited a tropical country.
• If you have a pain or bloating in your stomach.
• You are unlikely to pick up anything but threadworms, which are unpleasant but harmless.
• Ask your pharmacist about threadworm treatments for yourself and your family.
• Always wash your hands after going to the toilet and before meals.
• Discourage children with threadworms from putting their fingers in their mouths.
• Follow the advice on hygiene, such as washing bed-sheets, underwear, etc.
• Always wash and cook food properly.