You have worms!?

Let’s flip a coin. Heads or tails? What are your chances of guessing correctly? 50%, right? Well, that’s about the same chance of you having worms in your gut at this very moment.

We know, it’s disgusting, and you’d rather not think about it. But think about it: if they’re in there right now, sharing your lunch, wouldn’t you want to get rid of them – heads and tails?

“But I’m not dirty – how did I get worms?”

We live in Sub-Saharan Africa: this is an area that has a high risk of worm-infestation. They like this climate as much as we do. And you don’t have to be dirty to get infected: in fact, you could have ingested a very tiny egg while enjoying your salad at the restaurant. Unless the the kitchen staff have superb hygiene, they could be contaminating your food.  You could also have been infected by your dog, cat or teacup pet pig: they don’t wash their paws after doing a number 2 or playing in the mud, and this is where the worms lie and wait. Your kids can also be carrying around worms, since they put almost anything and everything in their mouths.

So, whether it’s from pets, kids, restaurant food or from that time you got your own hands dirty in the garden – worms can find many ways into your gut, even if you practice decent hygiene.

“I’m legitimately freaked out now! How do I get rid of them?!”

First, take a few, deep breaths. The thought may be disgusting, but it’s very easy to treat. In fact, the WHO recommends that you de-worm yourself about twice a year, even if you have no symptoms of worm infestation. You can get preventative de-worming tablets from your local pharmacy, without a prescription, and it usually means just one single dose per person. As with all medication, follow the instructions and dosage on the packet.

Read  There’s blood in my stool: what do I do?


“Shouldn’t I go to the doctor first?”

Only if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or under 2 years old. Pregnant and breastfeeding moms need to be careful of what medication they take, and kids under 2 years will need different treatment to adults.

If you have a heavier infection, you may have some of the following symptoms. In that case, you’d need more than one dose to kill them all:

  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Weight loss and inadequate absorption of nutrients from food
  • Visible worms in your stool.

“How Can I Prevent Worms?”

They cannot be completely avoided, which is why taking de-worming medication twice a year should get rid of any sneaky ones that may have crept in. You can reduce your risk by doing the following, though:

  • Keep kitchen and bathroom surfaces clean.
  • Everyone, including the children, should wash their hands regularly – especially after using the toilet, after touching pets and before eating.
  • Keep fingernails short as it’s easier for eggs to stay hidden under long fingernails. Short nails will also make it easier to wash off the eggs.
  • Wash vegetables and fruit before eating, and cook foods like meat, chicken or fish well to remove any or all parasites.
  • Always de-worm your pets from these parasites.
  • Pay attention to little ones who are scratching or say that they have itchy bottoms – it could be worms!
Sources: Kumar H, Jain K, Jain R. A study of prevalence of intestinal worm infestation and efficacy of anthelminthic drugs. Medical Journal, Armed Forces India. 2014;70(2):144-148. doi:10.1016/j.mjafi.2013.12.009.