Dr Caitlin: All You Wanted To Know About Worms

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Dr Caitlin O’Connor of Tralee Medical Centre in St Brendan’s Park on Worms…

Worms are parasites that enter the body and are able to live and feed off the person they have entered. The most common worm infection in Ireland is threadworms.

Medicines to treat worms are sometimes called anthelmintics. Mebendazole (trade name Vermox®) is the most commonly prescribed medicine for worms in Ireland.

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What are worms?

Worms (sometimes called helminths) are parasites that enter the body and are able to live and feed off the person they have entered. There are many types of worms and they are usually divided into three groups:

Roundworms – the most common roundworm infections are thought to be caused by threadworms, ascaris, hookworms and trichuris. Roundworm eggs usually enter the body by the person eating food or drinking water that contains eggs. The eggs live and hatch in the gut (intestine).

Tapeworms – these worms live in the gut. People usually become infected by eating raw or uncooked meat.

Flukeworms – these worms can live in the blood vessels, gut, lungs or liver. You usually become infected with fluke worms by swimming or washing in fresh water that contains flukeworms. An infection with flukeworms causes a tropical disease called schistosomiasis.

Most worm infections occur in warm tropical countries or developing countries where food and water may not be clean.

It is thought that millions of people around the world are infected with worms at any one time. In Ireland the most common worm infection is threadworms – this is a type of roundworm and is sometimes referred to as a pinworm.

Threadworms are spread by being in contact with someone who is already infected with threadworms. Other types of worm infections can occur if you live in Ireland; however, they do not occur very often.

People who get these infections have usually been travelling in countries where these types of worm infections are common.

Note: ringworm in not an infection caused by worms. It is a name given to a type of fungal skin infection.

Which medicines are usually prescribed for worms?

There are several medicines that may be used to treat worm infections – they are sometimes called anthelmintics. Mebendazole is the most commonly prescribed medicine for worms in the Ireland.

This is because it is used to treat threadworms which are the most common worm infections. Mebendazole is also used to treat roundworm, whipworm and hookworm infections.

What is the length of treatment?

In general, the length of treatment is usually quite short (at most a few days). This will depend on what type of worm you have and which medicine has been prescribed.

For example, for threadworms, mebendazole is usually given as a single one-off dose. This dose may be repeated two weeks later. For whipworm or common roundworm infections, mebendazole is given twice a day for three days.

For threadworms, it is usually advised that everybody in the household be treated if possible.

What about side-effects?

It is not possible to list all the side-effects of these medicines in this leaflet. If you want more information specific to your medicine, see the information leaflet that came with your medicine.

In general, medicines for worms are well tolerated and very rarely cause serious side-effects. The side-effects most commonly reported are tummy upsets such as cramps, wind, diarrhoea and feeling sick (nausea).

Who cannot take medicines for worms?

There are very few people who cannot take a medicine for worms. If for some reason one medicine has caused a side-effect or there is a reason you cannot take one, your doctor will discuss other ways to treat you.

Mebendazole is licensed for adults and children over the age of 2. However it is used to treat children from the age of 6 months if necessary. Mebendazole is usually avoided if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Can I buy medicines to treat worms?

For adults and children aged over 2 years, you can buy mebendazole to treat threadworms from your local pharmacy. If you need to treat threadworms in a child younger than 2 years old, discuss this with your doctor. If you have been abroad and think you have another type of worm infection, see your doctor.

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