Worms are parasites that live in the intestines and derive nutrition from the child’s diet. A worm infection, also termed Helminth infection, is one of the causes of stomach ache in children. As these infections are common, it is best to be aware of the different types of worms, and causes, symptoms and treatment of a worm infection.
Types of Worm Infections
There are various types of worms that can breed in the human body. The most common worms that infect babies are:
Tapeworms, also called flatworms, have hooks and suckers that attach to the intestines and breed on the partially digested food. A tapeworm can be as long as a few inches or even 40 feet in length! Children generally ingest them through contaminated food.
Roundworm infection is caused by the worm Ascaris lumbricoides. They are hollow in shape and can grow 35 cm in length. Roundworms inhabit saltwater, soil and fresh water, and are generally passed on to humans via pets.
Pinworms, also termed threadworms, are small, thin, and white worms that reside in the rectum. When the person sleeps, the female worm lays eggs in the anal area. This results in itching that transfers the eggs to the child’s fingers. These eggs survive on clothes, bed linen and toilet seats, and get ingested through contaminated food and drink. Pinworm infections are most common among babies and toddlers.
Hookworms usually occur due to poor sanitation. These are small parasitic worms that attach themselves to the intestinal walls. A child can catch a hookworm infection on coming into contact with contaminated soil.
How To Know If Your Child Has Worms
Children seldom display symptoms of being infected. The infection could also be minimal and therefore, go unnoticed. We recommend that you get your baby checked if you spot any of these symptoms:
- Foul-smelling stools
- Itching around the anus
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of sleep
- Stomach trouble
- Bowel issues
- Restlessness and anxiety
- Gas and bloating
- Few serious complications are obstruction of the small intestine, appendiceal lumen, bile duct, and pancreatic duct; intestinal volvulus; intussusception; peritonitis due to perforation of a viscus; and liver and lung abscess.
What Are the Causes of a Worm Infection?
Babies and young children are likely to get infected with worms while crawling and playing outdoors. The most common causes that help the development of worms in babies are:
- Coming into contact with an infected surface
- Consuming infected food or water
- Poor hygiene or lack of cleanliness
- Consumption of raw or undercooked food
- Improper washing of hands
- Contact with an infected person
Tests To Determine a Worm Infection
Doctors can pinpoint a worm infection in children by the following tests:
1. Stool Examination:
A stool sample is sent to the lab to determine the presence of worms or worm eggs.
2. Fingernails Examination:
The doctor examines the baby’s fingernails for worms or faeces underneath.
3. Sticky Tape Test:
This test is specifically performed to detect threadworms. A piece of tape is placed on the baby’s bottom to collect worm eggs if any.
4. Cotton Bud Swab:
A cotton bud is used to check the baby’s bottom for the presence of worm eggs.
5. Ultrasound Test:
This test is only performed in cases of severe infection. Here, the doctor uses ultrasound to detect the exact location of the worms.
Treatment For Worms In Children
Eradicating worm infection is not difficult. Paediatricians usually prescribe anti-parasitic medicines. Depending on the severity of the infection, she may prescribe any of these medications:
- 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.
- Albendazole Tablet/ Suspension: can be used in children between 13-24 months of age. It should not be used in children aged under 1 year.
Home Remedies for a Worm Infection
If you suspect worm infestation you should seek medical attention first. You can then use the home remedies below as complementary treatments. Puree these ingredients before feeding:
- 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 a Baby’s Growth
Worms are parasites that live in and derive nutrition from the body of their host. They impair children’s health in the following ways:
- Worms cause the loss of iron and protein, and often lead to anaemia in children.
- Roundworms result in the malabsorption of nutrients.
- Worms cause a loss of appetite, decline in nutritional intake and weakness.
- They are also responsible for diarrhoea and dysentery in babies and toddlers.
- Childhood undernutrition by mechanical and irritant action, decreasing intestinal absorption, competition for host’s nutrition and alterations in the intraluminal conditions of the small bowel. They affect physical and mental development, resulting in the child being underweight or stunted for his age
How to Prevent Your Baby from a Worm Infection
Maintaining good hygiene is vital to prevent the occurrence of worms in children. Babies become vulnerable to worm infections once they start crawling and walking. So, it’s important to practise the following measures:
- Change your baby’s nappies regularly. Wash your hands every time you change the diaper.
- Keep the house and surroundings clean.
- Ensure that your toddler wears closed shoes while playing and washes his hands and feet after returning home.
- Don’t let him play near water-logged areas.
- Cut your baby’s nails frequently.
- Give your baby only boiled and filtered water.
- Baby food should be cooked well to prevent a worm infection.
- Wash fruits and vegetables with clean water before cooking.
- Wash clothes and bed linen with hot water.
- Keep your baby’s potty seat clean.
Maintaining hygiene goes a long way in preventing worm infections. Some paediatricians recommend administering a deworming medicine every 6 months to prevent infections and ensure optimum growth of the child.