Pinworms (Enterobius vermicularis, for all you taxonomists) are a common parasite of humans. I've read that perhaps 40 or 50% of us harbor at least a few pinworms at any given time. They are tiny white threadlike creatures, about a quarter of an inch long. They live in the colon of humans only. They are harmless and cause no symptoms except itching around the anus. Repeat: no belly aches from pinworms, no weight loss, nothing but itch (admittedly, it can be quite an itch).

It's icky to think of, but let's face it: pinworms are a manifestation of our generally poor hygeine when it comes to the toilet. A brief review of the life cycle of the pinworm explains why.

The little creature crawls out of the anus and lays eggs. The eggs cause itching. Itching gets scratched. The fingernails have eggs on them. Things get touched with contaminated fingers. Fingers go directly in the mouth (reinfection) or new fingers pick up eggs by touching contaminated objects. Then THOSE fingers go in the mouth. Then the eggs hatch in the GI tract of a new person and off we go.

The symptoms are squirming and scratching of the area around the anus, especially at night when the little buggers come out. If you want to check the child suspected of pinworms, go in about a half hour after bedtime and examine the area around the anus for the little white threads. Alternatively, your doctor may want you to do a Scotch-tape slide test before treating.

To break the cycle takes only handwashing after using the toilet and especially after handling any child in diapers. To rid the body of pinworms usually takes only a single oral dose of the medication Vermox¬. It's a chew and swallow tablet - you can crush it up for the smaller kids. Some doctors like to treat the whole family; I usually just treat the kids unless they are "repeat offenders." Sometimes we repeat the treatment in two weeks or so... I don't always do that - I'm not sure it's worth the expense. We will tell you to wash the sheets in the hot cycle to get rid of the eggs undoubtedly present on the bedlinen.

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