Types of Worms – Roundworm
Roundworms are most common in regions with a high population density and poor hygiene and sanitation facilities – fortunately, Australia and New Zealand don't fall into these categories. Children playing outdoors in countries with poor sanitation and high population density have been known to pick up these worm infections, especially if there's faecal matter present. If, based on the information you find here, you think your child or a member of your family might have a roundworm infection, contact a medical professional immediately.
We know how important it is for parents to be prepared for any eventuality when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their children, so here's our factsheet on roundworms, how they enter the body, what kind of symptoms they cause, and – perhaps most importantly – how to get rid of them in the case of an infection.
Introducing the roundworm
The roundworm is a parasite which can enter the body and cause some unpleasant side-effects for little ones.
Also known as 'nematodes', these worms like to live in the human gut, but certain species can travel to different areas of the body. It's been said these worms look a little like cooked spaghetti, and they range in size from just a few millimetres long, up to an incredible two metres1
How do you catch roundworms?
Infections are very rare in Australia and New Zealand, but if you suspect your child may have contracted one, it is advisable to seek medical attention for further treatment and advice.
The most common way of catching roundworms is through contaminated soil1. The eggs and the tiny larvae live happily in the soil, but they can easily end up in the body if someone gets some infected dirt on their hands and then transfers it to their mouth. Children can pick up the infection by putting dirty fingers in their mouths – something we know many children do from time to time! However, it's important to remember that this type of infections are rare in Australia and New Zealand, and it's therefore unlikely that children in this region could contract such infections on home soil.
Many household pets also experience roundworms – they're common parasites in dogs and cats2, for example. Your pet can pass the eggs in their faeces, contaminating the soil and putting curious, playful children at risk of contracting the worms.
Contrary to popular belief, a roundworm infection isn't a symbol of poor hygiene. Children are naturally inquisitive and often have no qualms about coming into contact with dirt while playing or learning! While it can help to teach children not to play with animal faeces and to wash their hands as often as possible, it's also important for mums everywhere to understand that worms are a natural part of growing up for many little ones, and deworming is not a hygiene red flag, but a sensible part of mum's and dad's all-round care.
What are the symptoms of a roundworm infection?
In many cases, infections don't actually cause many outwardly noticeable symptoms. But when symptoms do occur, they appear in two distinct stages3:
- 'Early-phase' symptoms: newly-hatched larvae can make their way from the small intestine (where they usually live) into the lungs, which can cause a number of symptoms, including fever, dry cough, shortness of breath and wheezing. Experts are yet to establish why some people infected with roundworms experience these symptoms, while others don't. Early-phase symptoms can become apparent 4-16 days after the eggs or larvae were ingested.
- 'Late-phase' symptoms: when the worms living in the intestine have reached maturity, they can cause blockages in the digestive system, which can lead to mild abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea and eventually, passing the worm in your faeces. This doesn't tend to happen until around six weeks after the original infection occurred.
How do I treat a roundworm infection?
If a roundworm infection is suspected it is advisable to seek medical attention as soon as possible for your doctor to verify. Roundworm can be treated effectively with COMBANTRIN®, which effectively paralyses the worms inside the body and causes them to be passed out in faecal matter. It's recommended to perform another worm-check about 2-4 weeks later, if symptoms continue, and re-treat if necessary. Also remember to treat the whole family to ensure worms that may have been passed on are also dealt with.