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Worms are a kind of intestinal parasites that live in the intestines of young children and derive their nutrition from the child’s diet, leading to illness. Worm infection, also termed as Helminth infection, is one of the major causes of stomach ache among children. These infections are very common and can be easily treated. It is always better to be well aware of the different types of worms, their causes, symptoms and treatment, so you can help your child get timely treatment if infected by any.
Types Of Worm Infections
There are various types of worms that infect and breed in the different parts of the human body. They exist in different sizes and forms. They may be short or long, flat or round, having suckers or three lips and have no separate limbs. The most common worms that infect babies and young children are:
Tapeworms are also called flatworms, as they breathe and ingest oxygen and nutrients through their skin. They have hooks and suckers that attach to the intestine and breed on the partially digested food of their host. A tapeworm may grow from few inches to 40 feet or longer in length. Children generally ingest them in the form of eggs or larvae through contaminated food.
A roundworm infection, also known as “ascariasis” is caused by the worm Ascaris lumbricoides. These are hollow in shape, appearing similar to earthworms and may grow up to 30 – 35 cm in length. Roundworms inhabit salt water, soil or fresh water and are generally found in pets who usually pass on the worms to humans. The roundworm larvae often enter the bloodstream from the intestine and travel up to the lungs.
3. Pinworms or Threadworms
Pinworms are even termed as threadworms as they are small, thin, white and wiggly worms that reside in the rectum. The female worms lay eggs around the anus. These eggs can survive on clothes, bed and other materials and get passed on when touched or inhaled. Pinworm infections are most common among babies and toddlers.
Hookworms are usually found in areas having poor sanitation. Hookworms are small parasitic worms that have cutting plates in their mouths, through which they get attached to the intestinal wall. The child catches the infection on coming in contact with contaminated soil. Hookworm larvae can burrow through the skin of human feet and enter the bloodstream.
How To Know If My Child Has Worms?
Often, a child shows no symptoms of a worm infestation. The infection could also be very mild and hence get overlooked. If you’re asking yourself, ‘Can babies get worms?’ The answer is yes; even babies can be infected with worms. Depending on the type and severity of the infestation, you should look for the following warning signs:
- Spitting: The child starts to a spit very often without any reason because worms cause increased saliva in the mouth.
- Foul Smelling Stool: An extremely foul smell coming from baby’s poop can mean an infection in the tummy due to worms.
- Itching Around Anus: The female worms usually move to the anus to lay eggs, causing itching and discomfort around the rectum.
- Abdominal Pain: This is the most common sign of having intestinal worms.
- Disturbed Sleep: The itchiness, abdominal pain and restlessness collectively disturb the child’s sleep.
Other Signs & Symptoms Of Worm Infection In Babies
Children seldom display symptoms of being infected, and if so, the infestation could be minimal. It could, therefore, be unnoticed. However, it is recommended to be mindful of the symptoms and get the baby checked if in doubt. The different kind of worm infections prevalent in babies causes more or less similar symptoms. They are as follows:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of sleep
- Stomach discomfort
- Bowel upsets
- Worsening skin conditions like rashes, hives, sores and other allergies
- Restlessness and anxiety caused due to irritation of central nervous system by parasitic metabolic waste
- Lethargy and unusual fluctuations in energy
- Frequent gas and bloating
- Behavioural changes
What Are Causes Of Worm Infection In Babies?
Babies and young children are very likely to get infected with worms since they are constantly crawling, and playing outdoors. There can be several causes of worms in babies, depending on the lifestyle of the household. The most common reasons of worm infection are listed below:
- Coming in contact with an infected surface
- Consuming infected food or water
- Improper hygiene or lack of cleanliness
- Consumption of raw or undercooked food
- Inadequate washing of hands
- Contact with infected person
Tests To Determine A Worm Infection
Doctors can determine the possibility of worm infection in children by performing the following simple tests:
1. Stool Examination: A stool sample is sent to the lab to determine the presence of worms or worm eggs.
2. Checking Fingernails: The doctor examines the baby’s fingernails looking for worms or faeces underneath the nails.
3. A Sticky Tape Test: This test is specifically performed to detect threadworms. A piece of tape is placed on to the baby’s bottom to collect worm eggs if they are present.
4. Cotton Bud Swab: A cotton bud is swabbed across the bottom of the baby to check for the presence of worm eggs.
5. Ultrasound Test: This test is only performed in cases of severe infection, where the doctor uses ultrasound to detect the exact location of the worms.
Treatment For Worms In Children
Eradicating worm infection is not a major issue and can be easily done by taking anti-parasitic medicines as prescribed by the doctor. The safest medicine for deworming children is low doses of albendazole or mebendazole. Depending on the severity of the infection, the doctor may decide upon the following medication:
- Mebendazole: It is considered safest to treat a variety of worm infections in children.
- Pyrantel: It is another safe medicine for children often prescribed by the doctor.
- Reese’s Pinworm: It is a safe and reputed medicine mostly prescribed to older children.
- Zentel 400mg: It is prescribed to children over two years of age
- Zentel Suspension: It is a deworming syrup for children under two years
Apart from taking the above-mentioned medicines, babies should get plenty of rest and avoid high-energy activities when down with an infection.
Besides resorting to mainstream medication, parents could consider home remedies for worms in babies, by mixing the following ingredients in the baby’s food in puree form:
- Unripe Papaya: This has an enzyme, papain, that acts as an anthelmintic and destroys the worms in the intestine.
- Garlic: This is a natural deworming agent and is highly effective in killing parasitic worms.
- Carom Seeds: These seeds are rich in thymol, which help prevent the growth of intestinal parasites. They can be mixed with jaggery when offering a child.
- Pumpkin Seeds: These seeds have cucurbitacin that can paralyze the worms and prevent their survival in the body.
- Bitter Gourd: This helps fight the worms in the tummy. Mixing with water and honey masks the bitter taste.
- Neem: This has anti-parasitic properties and is useful in destroying various intestinal worms.
- Carrots: Carrots have vitamin A that enhances a child’s immunity and helps to fight intestinal parasites. Consuming carrots on an empty stomach can help in clearing worms.
- Turmeric: It is an internal antiseptic and is known to eradicate all types of worms.
- Coconut: This has strong anti-parasitic properties, making it beneficial in treating worms. It can be consumed directly as oil.
- Cloves: Cloves can destroy existing worms and their eggs and can also prevent future infection.
Effects Of Worms On Baby’s Growth
Worms are parasites that live in and derive nutrition from the body of their host. They impair the nutritional status of children, infecting them in the following ways:
- Worms reside and feed on host tissues and even blood, thus causing loss of iron and protein, often leading to anaemia.
- Some worms such as roundworms compete for certain vitamins in the intestine, resulting in malabsorption of nutrients.
- Worms cause loss of appetite, decline in nutritional intake and weakness.
- Worms even result in diarrhoea and dysentery, thus weakening the body.
- They have a negative effect on the physical and mental development of the child, resulting in the child being underweight or stunting growth.
Preventing Worm Infection In Babies
Hygiene alone can prove vital in preventing future occurence of worms which cause stomach aches in children. Babies are most vulnerable to worm infections, once they start crawling and walking. It is important to practise the following measures diligently to prevent infections:
- Change baby’s nappies regularly and wash your hands immediately after a change.
- Keep the house and surroundings clean.
- Ensure that the toddler goes out to play wearing closed shoes and washes hands and feet on getting home.
- Do not let the toddler play near water logged areas.
- Cut your baby’s nails frequently.
- Provide your baby with boiled and filtered water to drink..
- Food should be cooked well and preferably not raw, to prevent stomach worms in babies.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly in clean water.
- Wash clothes and bed linen with hot water.
Maintaining hygiene goes a long way in preventing worm infections, which are common among children. Some doctors recommend administering a dose of deworming medicines every 6 months to prevent infections and ensure optimum growth in babies. Do consult a doctor if you are concerned about an infestation.