Pinworms (2024)

What are pinworms?

The most common type of human worm infection in Australia is pinworm. Other names for this parasite include threadworm and Enterobius vermicularis, or the common term ‘worms’.

Children are more likely to pick up an infection than an adult, probably because of children’s tendency to put their fingers in their mouths. However, once a child is infected, other members of their household are also likely to get pinworms unless strict hygiene practices are observed. Infection can happen to anyone, regardless of a child’s home hygiene.

Despite the unsavoury reputation, a pinworm infection is relatively harmless and can be easily treated.

Worms require a host in order to survive. In the case of pinworms, the human acts as the host.

Life cycle of a pinworm

Infections begin when pinworm eggs are eaten, usually directly through contaminated hands or indirectly through contaminated food, bedding, clothing or other articles. The eggs then travel to the gut where they hatch and mature. A grown pinworm is yellowish white, slender and about one centimetre long.

Around 4 weeks after ingestion, the adult female moves down the gut and exits the body via the anus to lay a batch of eggs on the surrounding skin, often at night. The worm then dies, her reproductive mission complete.

The eggs may cause intense itching, especially at night, so children can easily reinfect themselves by scratching the anus and scraping eggs under their fingernails. These eggs can then be transferred to the mouth and the whole life cycle of the pinworm starts again.

The eggs can survive on surfaces or objects (such as furniture, kitchen surfaces and toothbrushes) for up to 2 weeks in the right conditions and can infect other people if transferred to the mouth or food.

Household pets cannot be infected with pinworms or pass them on to humans.

Symptoms of pinworm

Pinworm infections often produce no symptoms but, when they occur, symptoms can include:

  • itchy bottom, especially at night
  • reduced appetite
  • feeling mildly unwell
  • inflammation of the vagin*
  • adult worms can sometimes be seen in the faeces, and eggs may be seen clinging to the skin around the anus
  • irritability and behavioural changes.

Treatment for pinworm infection

Your doctor might want to perform a test to make sure the problem is a pinworm infection. This is done by collecting the eggs from around the anus using sticky tape first thing in the morning.

Medication is available to kill the worms and this is usually prescribed for the person who is infected and all other members of the household. One dose may be followed up with a second dose 2 weeks later to take care of any surviving worms.

Although the medication is safe for humans, you should consult your doctor or chemist before commencing treatment.

Preventing another pinworm infection

Suggestions to prevent another infection during treatment include:

  • All family members should wash their hands and nails thoroughly with soap and water, particularly after going to the toilet, after changing nappies, before preparing food and before eating food.
  • Discourage scratching of the bottom and nail biting.
  • Keep fingernails short.
  • Daily bathing and showering.
  • Wash all sheets, bed linen, pyjamas and sleepwear in hot water to kill any pinworm eggs.
  • Clean toilet seats and potties regularly with disinfectant (remember to store the disinfectant out of reach of children).
  • All family members should take the medication, regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms.

Where to get help

Pinworms (2024)


Pinworms? ›

Pinworms are small parasites that can live in the colon and rectum. You get them when you swallow their eggs. The eggs hatch inside your intestines. While you sleep, the female pinworms leave the intestines through the anus and lay eggs on nearby skin. Pinworms spread easily.

How did you get pinworms? ›

How is pinworm infection spread? Pinworm infection is spread by the fecal-oral route, that is by the transfer of infective pinworm eggs from the anus to someone's mouth, either directly by hand or indirectly through contaminated clothing, bedding, food, or other articles.

How do humans get rid of pinworms? ›

The medications used for the treatment of pinworm are either mebendazole, pyrantel pamoate, or albendazole. Any of these drugs are given in one dose initially, and then another single dose of the same drug two weeks later. Pyrantel pamoate is available without prescription.

Will pinworms go away on their own? ›

Strict hygiene measures can clear up pinworm infection without medication, and reduce the risk of reinfection. The worm has a lifespan of about six weeks, therefore the strict hygiene needs to last that long.

Will I see pinworms in my poop? ›

Pinworms are small white worms about 1/2 inch long and as thin as a thread. They can sometimes be seen in and around the child's bottom (anus) and in bowel movements. These worms live in the intestine. The adult female worm crawls out of the infected person's anus at night and lays her eggs in the surrounding skin.

How do adults get pinworms? ›

Accidentally swallowing or breathing in pinworm eggs causes a pinworm infection. The tiny (microscopic) eggs can be carried to your mouth by contaminated food, drink or your fingers. Once swallowed, the eggs hatch in the intestines and mature into adult worms within a few weeks.

What is the fastest way to get rid of pinworms? ›

Most pinworm infections are mild and easily treated. Your doctor may prescribe a single chewable tablet of a medicine called mebendazole. A second tablet is taken about 3 weeks later if the infection isn't cured. Or your doctor may recommend another kind of medicine called pyrantel, which is taken as a single dose.

What happens if pinworms go untreated? ›

While serious complications are rare, pinworms can lead to: Bacterial infections: When the infected person scratches the anal area, the skin can bleed and become infected. Urinary tract infections (UTIs): In females, the worms can travel to the vagin* and cause infections.

How common are pinworms in adults? ›

Pinworms (Enterobius vermicularis) are small, white worms about the length of a staple that live in the rectum of humans. About 20% of children will get pinworms. It is more common in school-age children than pre- schoolers. Adults are rarely affected, except for parents of infected children.

How do you check yourself for pinworms? ›

Firmly press the sticky side of a 1-inch (2.5 centimeters) strip of cellophane tape over the anal area for a few seconds. The eggs stick to the tape. The tape is then transferred to a glass slide, sticky side down. Put the piece of tape in a plastic bag and seal the bag.

Is it OK to live with pinworms? ›

Pinworms don't cause any harm (just itching and restless sleep), and it won't take long to get rid of them.

How to deworm yourself naturally? ›

Garlic, honey, pumpkin seeds, and papaya seeds are all touted as antiparasitic foods to include in your diet. Some natural practitioners go a step further and recommend a grain-free, sugar-free diet. Others recommend limiting fruit intake in order to further reduce dietary sugars.

Can you get pinworms from dogs? ›

Can Children Get Pinworms from a Pet Dog or Cat? – Worms can sometimes be seen on the skin near the anus or on under- garments, pajamas, or bed sheets. h Pet owners should be advised that, because pinworms are host-specific, dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the spread of human pinworms.

How can I check myself for pinworms? ›

The second option is to touch the perianal skin with transparent tape to collect possible pinworm eggs around the anus first thing in the morning. If a person is infected, the eggs on the tape will be visible under a microscope.

How do you self test for pinworms? ›

Firmly press the sticky side of a 1-inch (2.5 centimeters) strip of cellophane tape over the anal area for a few seconds. The eggs stick to the tape.

What can mimic pinworms? ›

Dipylidium caninum mimicking recurrent enterobius vermicularis (pinworm) infection.

What does pinworm feel like? ›

Symptoms of a pinworm infection (enterobiasis) include: Anal itching, especially at night: Pinworms lay their eggs around the anus at night, causing itching and irritation. While symptoms are usually mild, anal itching can be severe.


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