Protect your family against intestinal worms

Without treatment, tapeworms can reach a whopping 15 metres in the human intestines. This is just one type of common parasitic intestinal worm infection that South African families should be aware of and take routine precautions against.

“Whether or not we like to think about it, intestinal worms are more common than most people realise. These parasites are in the environment all around us looking for hosts, and can easily infect entire households,” says pharmacist Joy Steenkamp of Medipost Pharmacy courier pharmacy.

“The eggs of pinworms are so tiny they can be breathed in, while hookworms in soil can enter the body through walking barefoot, and tapeworms are often unsuspectingly eaten in undercooked meat or fish. Households with children and pets also face a greater risk of intestinal parasitic worms.”

Although there are often no symptoms, especially in the early stages of infestation, a course of deworming medication is recommended for all members of the household and pets regularly.

“It is recommended that we take the precaution of deworming twice a year. Since intestinal worms spread so quickly, everyone in the home, including the pets, should take a course of deworming medication at the same time to prevent reinfection.”

Types of intestinal worms

  • Hookworms are known as soil-transmitted helminths. These parasitic worms can enter the skin of your feet, and infection can cause painful diarrhoea, and in serious cases may lead to iron-deficiency anaemia and protein deficiency.
  • Whipworm and roundworms can be contracted through contaminated soil in contact with your mouth, even if it’s invisible to the eye. Serious, untreated whipworm infections can cause anaemia while serious roundworm infections could lead to fever, coughing and potentially severe vision problems.
  • Pinworms affect only humans and are contracted by inhaling or touching contaminated food or objects, including bedding or clothing. Symptoms include itching of the anus that can result in difficulty sleeping and restlessness.
  • Tapeworms are members of the flatworm family and can enter the human body through eating infected undercooked fish, beef or pork, or through the faecal-oral route. 

Prevention tips

“To prevent infection as far as possible, some helpful hygiene measures include cleaning up pet faeces in bags, being careful not to touch it; covering up children’s sand pits when they are not in use; and washing hands frequently, especially after going to the toilet, handling pets, and before eating and preparing food.  

“It is also important to wash fruit and vegetables and cook food thoroughly. Washing household items frequently, including washing bedding in hot water, can also kill the organisms and help prevent intestinal worms spreading in the home,” Steenkamp adds. 

Home treatment

“Thankfully, there are treatment options available without a prescription. It is important to pay attention to the package insert warnings, as this medication is not for pregnant women or children under one year old,” she says. 

Most intestinal worm infections can be treated with a single dose or twice daily three-day course of mebendazole, available from pharmacies including Medipost. Sold under various brand names, it comes in tablet form or suspension. If needed, the tablets can be crushed and swallowed with liquid.

Self-medication products purchased from Medipost Pharmacy are delivered safely, discreetly and conveniently to any address in South Africa. Delivery is free when combined with delivery of chronic medicines. 

“Side effects are uncommon with short-term treatment for intestinal worms. Very little of the medicine is absorbed beyond the gastrointestinal tract, as this medicine works through contact with the intestines where the parasitic worms are most likely to be before it is eliminated by the body. Occasionally, however, people may experience an upset stomach, especially with severe infections,” Steenkamp notes. 

People with sensitivities and allergies to common inactive ingredients should double-check with their pharmacist and the medication label for ingredients, such as sucrose or sweeteners among others, and discuss any potential cause for concern with their doctor. 

“Anyone can be affected by intestinal parasites – don’t wait for the signs of infection. Look after your family with regular preventative deworming as part of your annual health and hygiene routine,” Steenkamp concludes.

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