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How To Tell If You Have Worms

That itchy bum might be trying to tell you something.

21/07/2017 1:59 PM AEST | Updated 21/07/2017 2:00 PM AEST
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It could be the reason for those itches.

Worms aren't quite the sexiest topic to talk (or write) about and while rates of infection have been falling in Australia, it's good to know what to look out for if you think you might have them.

While there's a whole range of these parasites lurking about out there ranging from tapeworms, whipworms and hookworms, the most common infection seen in Australia is from pinworms which, according to Dr Catherine Gordon, are quite common among young children.

Pinworms

Also known as threadworms, these critters make a home for themselves in the lower intestine, venturing out at night to lay their eggs around the anus, which in turn causes the area to become very itchy.

Gordon told HuffPost Australia that the most common way in which the worms are spread is from infected children scratching their bottoms and transferring the eggs back to their mouth with their hands.

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Good hygiene can prevent pinworms.

While they don't pose a major threat to our health and serious infections are unlikely to occur in Australia, the itchiness that comes with pinworms can cause a rash that impacts on sleeping.

One of the most popular methods used by doctors for testing whether pinworms are present is known as the 'tape test'. This involves placing a piece of sticky tape to the area around the anus which is then removed and examined to see if there are any worms or eggs present.

Strongyloides

While these worms are relatively rare in Australia, they are commonly seen in Indigenous communities, WWII veterans and immigrants from Southeast Asia, Africa and South American tropical and subtropical regions.

They penetrate their human host directly through the skin from soil that has been contaminated by faeces of an infected person. Their eggs can hatch inside the gut, with the larvae able to directly penetrate the gut wall and move to any organ in the body.

"[The] main issue with it is that its life cycle can be completed entirely within the human host," Gordon said.

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Strongyloides can live out their lives comfortably in a human host.

"It shares [a] common infection pathway with hookworm in that they both penetrate human host directly through the skin from the environment."

In extreme circumstances, strongyloides can cause death, but usually only in immunocompromised people.

Treatment and Prevention

While the possibility of having worms laying eggs around your anus while you sleep at night might terrify you, it's not all bad news -- a pinworm infection can be treated with over-the-counter medication.

An infection caused by strongyloides can also be treated with specific anti-worm medication, though this depends on the age of the person with the infection.

"Most worms can actually be treated quite effectively," Gordon said.

"It's just a matter of identifying the correct type of worm so that you can give the correct drug -- not all drugs are 100 percent effective against all worms and they do not prevent re-infection."

With regards to prevention, good hygiene and sanitation are the best ways to avoid infection.

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It's important to teach kids to wash their hands.

Common Misconceptions

You've probably heard from your mum or dad that you can get worms from the dog or cat licking your face but that's just an old wives' tale.

While it's impossible to contract pinworms from animals, toxocariasis -- an infection caused by a type of parasitic roundworm -- can be transmitted to humans from eggs that are deposited into the soil through the faeces of cats or dogs.

While toxocariasis is rarely serious it can be treated with medication and prevented by adopting good personal hygiene practices. In addition to this, it's also important to make sure that dogs and cats are wormed regularly and that their faeces are disposed of hygienically.

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Dogs can pass roundworm eggs into the soil through their faeces.

Can you lure a tapeworm out with raw meat?

You probably heard the story about placing raw meat on your tongue, which would cause a tape worm to come up through your esophagus into your mouth to feed on the meat. Gross. This was a common tale growing up, but the good news is that it appears that it's nothing more than an urban legend.

Tape worms are a thing in Australia though, and are caused when humans consume raw or undercooked animal products that contain worm larvae (usually from beef or pork).

Often the person will have no symptoms -- or may feel tired, lose their appetite, lose weight or feel sick in the stomach. While a tape worm can live within its host for 30 years, it may exit the body on its own, or else there's medication to get rid of it as well as reduce symptoms.

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