In this article
- What does it mean if my baby has worms?
- How common are worm infections in babies and toddlers?
- What are the signs and symptoms of a worm infection?
- How did my child get worms?
- How will worms affect my baby’s development?
- What tests are done to check a worm infection in babies and toddlers?
- How do I treat my baby’s worm infection?
- What can I do to prevent my child getting worms?
- Can worm infections have a positive effect on my child’s immune system?
- Can probiotics help to treat worm infections in my toddler?
What does it mean if my baby has worms?It means that there is an infestation of worms in your baby’s intestine.
Your baby could have caught it from someone else, when walking around barefoot on infected soil, playing in contaminated water eating unclean food.
Once these eggs hatch, the worms will grow and lay more eggs in your baby’s body.
How common are worm infections in babies and toddlers?Worm infections are very common and spread easily. However, it's difficult to know how prevalent these infections are because they often don't have symptoms and often aren't reported.
Studies estimate that one person in five living in India has at least one type of worm infection, and in young children, infections are thought to be even more common than this.
There are different types of worm infections. Pinworms (also called threadworms) are a common kind of worms that affect young children. They look like pieces of thick thread, about the length of a staple pin, anything from three mm to 10mm long.
Hookworms, roundworms and whipworm infections are also common in India.It can be upsetting to find out your baby has a worm infection. Luckily, getting rid of worms is also easy and relatively quick.
What are the signs and symptoms of a worm infection?Most often a worm infestation does not show symptoms, or the symptoms may be so slight and gradual that they are overlooked.
Depending on the type of worm infection and the severity of the infection, a child with worms may have some common signs or symptoms. If your child has any of these, take her to the doctor straight away:
- A sore tummy.
- Weight loss.
- Blood in the stool.
- Trouble sleeping, because of the itchiness.
- Vomiting or coughing, as it is possible to cough up or vomit a worm.
- Itching or pain around the anus, where the worms entered. This is true particularly for pin worms.
- Painful and frequent urination due to urinary tract infection (UTI). This is more common in girls.
- Internal bleeding that can lead to loss of iron and anaemia, malabsorption of nutrients, diarrhoea and loss of appetite.
- Very rarely if there are very many worms, there can be a blockage of the intestines. Some children might vomit out worms (usually round worms that look like earthworms).
- Severe tapeworm infections can cause seizures.
- PICA (eating unedible, non-nutritive things such as soil, chalk, paper and so on) is another symptom of worm infestation.
Some doctors say that teeth grinding can be a sign of worms, but the research is conflicting on this subject.
If your baby has a mild infection of threadworms, she may not show any symptoms, apart from complaining of an itchy bottom, particularly at night.
Check your baby’s bottom at night, after she has gone to bed. Gently part her buttocks and shine a torch around the opening of her bottom. If she has threadworms, you may be able to see one or more worms crawling out or around her night suit and bed sheets. You may also see threadworms in your baby’s stool.
If your child is infected by hookworms, she may have:
- a rash that can be itchy at the site where the worms enter the skin, especially hives (urticaria)
How did my child get worms?Your baby can get worms from:
This is the most common way children get worms such as hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and whipworms.
If an infected person goes to the toilet in the soil, they deposit worm eggs, which then grow into larvae (immature worms). The larvae then mature. Children can get infected with hookworm from walking barefoot or crawling on infected soil, as these larvae can penetrate the skin of the feet.
Other worms get into the body when someone gets soil in their hands or under the nails and then puts their dirty hands in their mouth.
Infected water areas
Some types of worms breed in water bodies. They can be found in lakes, dams and puddles. Playing, bathing and swimming in these areas, or drinking and eating food contaminated by the water, can cause a worm infection.
Children tend to be affected the most as their immune systems are weaker than those of adults.
Undercooked or infected food
Hookworm, whipworm and roundworm eggs stay on plants and vegetables that have been grown in soil that is contaminated with faeces and have not been thoroughly washed. We can get infected by eating these vegetables.
Animals that live along water areas, such as fish, cattle, sheep and goats can also be sick with worm infections such as tapeworms. So meat and fish that are raw, or not well cooked, can carry worms.
Contact with an infected person
If someone your baby is in contact with has worms, they can pass the infection on to your baby if they do not have proper hygiene. Pinworms pass in this way.
Worm eggs can remain under fingernails or on unwashed or improperly washed hands and can pass on from there to your baby's toys or directly into her mouth. Threadworms can live for up to three weeks in bed sheets or clothing.
How will worms affect my baby’s development?In the short term, some worm infections can be more of an annoyance than an illness. But if left untreated, they can become severe, as the worms can lead to intestinal bleeding. This can then lead to malnutrition, low weight and complications like anaemia.
Infected children then become more vulnerable to illness, as their immune systems are damaged. Tapeworm infections can be serious if they lead to cysts growing in the brain. Though they are quite rare, is it necessary to get your doctor to rule this out.
Longer term, the worm infection can also harm infected children’s future physical and intellectual development, delaying growth and affecting cognitive function, especially if it results in anaemia and malnutrition. Fortunately, timely treatment can prevent this.
What tests are done to check a worm infection in babies and toddlers?The best way to find out if your baby has worms is to get her checked by your doctor. Your doctor may use one of the following tests to check if your baby has a worm infection:
- Stool examination. The doctor will ask for a sample of your baby’s stool. The sample will be sent to a lab to check for worms or worm eggs.
- The sticky tape test. This test is done for threadworms and involves sticking a piece of tape around your baby’s bottom to collect possible worm eggs. The tape is then sent to a lab for testing.
- Checking under fingernails. Your doctor may check for worm eggs under your baby’s fingernails.
- A cotton-bud swab. The doctor or nurse may run a cotton swab around your baby’s bottom to check for worm eggs.
- An ultrasound test. This usually works when there is a severe infestation of worms. With the ultrasound, your doctor will find out the exact location of the worms.
How do I treat my baby’s worm infection?Fortunately, almost all worm infections can be treated with oral medication. Your doctor will prescribe medicines or deworming treatments based on the type of worm infection your baby has. Your child may also need iron supplements if she has anaemia.
Don’t buy over-the-counter medicines or herbal remedies, as some anti-worm medicines may be unsuitable for babies less than two years old. You may also be tempted to try alternative medicine like herbal remedies. There isn’t any evidence proving their effectiveness. It is best to talk to your doctor before you try them on your baby.
Worm infections spread easily and getting re-infected is common. If your child is found to have worms, your doctor may advise your whole family to undergo treatment, even if none of you has worms, just to be safe.
What can I do to prevent my child getting worms?The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that preschool children receive regular deworming treatments. Doctors recommend getting your baby dewormed every six months after she turns one.
Once your little one starts to walk, she’ll be at risk of getting worms. Take your child to the paediatrician for regular check-up and follow the schedule for deworming treatments.
Here are a few things you can do to keep her safe from worm infections:
- Change your baby’s nappies regularly and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Clean your house often and well, with a good disinfectant.
- Once your child can walk, get her some closed shoes. Make sure she wears them when she plays outside. Wash her hands and feet when you get home.
- Keep your child away from slushy play areas, moist sand pits and soil. Take special care during the monsoon when there is waterlogging. Contaminated water can flow in from anywhere.
- Always ensure that your child plays in a clean, dry area.
- Don’t let your child play in or around water bodies such as puddles, potholes, lakes or dams.
- As much as possible, make sure your child only relieves herself in a clean toilet, and not outside.
- Keep your toilet clean. Wash your baby’s bottom every time she pees and poos. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. If your child is old enough, teach her to wash her hands after going to the toilet every time.
- Make sure your family washes their hands with soap before meals and after using the toilet.
- Keep your child’s nails short and clean. Worm eggs can get caught under long fingernails and spread around the house.
- Always drink clean water. You can boil or filter your drinking water.
- Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly in clean water. Take special care when washing leafy greens as they can harbour soil and grit.
- Check that meat and fish are fresh before cooking. Cook meat and fish thoroughly, till there are no raw bits. Read more about food hygiene.
- If you have a maid or ayah looking after your baby, make sure she keeps clean. It's best for her and for other household help to get dewormed along with your family members.
Can worm infections have a positive effect on my child’s immune system?We can't say for sure. Some experts say that getting worm infections in childhood is good for the immune system and can help protect against allergies and autoimmune conditions. This is called the “old friends” hypothesis.
Here are some examples from other countries that prove this theory:
- A century ago, when worm infections were much more prevalent in the UK, and most adults had them, allergies were much less common.
- One study in Uganda found that when pregnant women took deworming medication during their pregnancy, their babies were more likely to have eczema.
Can probiotics help to treat worm infections in my toddler?Probiotic foods, such as curd (dahi), lassi, chhach, raita or yogurt are said to support the growth of good bacteria that is important for your child's immunity. However, there’s not much research on how good they are at treating worms. More studies are needed to prove this.
Studies suggest that probiotics might provide some protection against parasites, including worms. However, these studies were carried on mice, and the way that this might work is unclear.
There’s no evidence to show that probiotics on their own can treat a case of worms. If you choose to use them, give them to your child in addition to established treatments that your doctor prescribes.
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