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Roundworm Infection in Children

What is roundworm infection in children?

Roundworm infection (ascariasis) is a type of parasitic illness. This is an illness in which an organism lives inside the body of another creature. It’s caused by the roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides. The worms live and grow inside the body and may cause symptoms.

What causes roundworm infection in a child?

Roundworm infection is the most common type of worm infection in the world. It is rare in the U.S. Roundworm eggs live in the soil and in contaminated feces. The eggs can get into the body through the mouth. The infection can then spread from person to person through infected feces.

Roundworms can live inside the small intestine for up to 2 years. The worms are about as thick as a pencil. They can grow to be about 13 inches long. They reproduce very quickly. Female roundworms may lay more than 200,000 eggs a day. These eggs leave the body through bowel movements.

If a child swallows a roundworm egg, it passes down into the intestine and hatches into a baby worm (larva). Larvae can pass through the intestine wall into the bloodstream. They then travel through the lungs up into the throat. They are then swallowed again and return to the small intestine where they grow into adult worms.

Which children are at risk for roundworm infection?

Roundworms tend to be more common in warm, wet, tropical countries. They are more common in countries where people live in poverty, where there is inadequate disposal of human feces, or where crops are fertilized with human feces.

Your child may be at risk for roundworm infection if he or she has been adopted from a developing country, or if you have traveled to a place where roundworms are common. Children are more likely to be infected because they are more likely to put their contaminated fingers in their mouths.

What are the symptoms of roundworm infection in a child?

Older children may have no symptoms. A younger child is more likely to have symptoms because his or her intestines are narrower and the worms have less room. Symptoms may include:

  • Worms in a bowel movement that look like earthworms
  • Worms coming out of the nose or mouth
  • Stomach pain
  • Coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • Weight loss or failure to grow

If worms block the intestine, this may cause:

  • Vomiting
  • Belly (abdomen) that is painful, bloated, and hard

The symptoms of roundworm infection can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is roundworm infection diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask about your family’s travel history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. Your child may also have a stool sample test. For this, a small sample of your child’s feces is checked in a lab to look for roundworm eggs or worms.

How is roundworm infection treated in a child?

In most cases, roundworms can be easily treated by taking a medicine that kills the worms in about 3 days. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines. Medicines commonly used in the U.S. are:

  • Albendazole
  • Mebendazole
  • Pyrantel

In rare cases, your child may need surgery to treat a severe intestinal blockage caused by roundworms.

Can roundworm infection be prevented in a child?

After treatment, infection can happen again. This is common in areas where roundworm infection is widespread. To prevent a roundworm infection:

  • Be aware of the risk when traveling in developing countries where soil may be contaminated by feces.
  • Wash and peel or thoroughly cook fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Wash your hands and teach your children to wash their hands with soap and water after being outside, before handling food, and after going to the bathroom.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if your child has any symptoms of roundworm infection.

Key points about roundworm infection in children

  • Roundworm infection is a type of parasitic illness. It’s caused by the roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides.
  • Roundworm eggs live in the soil and in contaminated feces. The eggs can get into the body through the mouth. The infection can then spread from person to person via infected feces.
  • Symptoms may include worms in a bowel movement or coming from the nose or mouth, vomiting, and stomach pain.
  • In most cases, roundworms can be easily treated by taking a medicine that kills the worms in about 3 days.
  • After treatment, infection can happen again. This is common in areas where roundworm infection is widespread. Take steps to prevent a repeat roundworm infection.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Lentnek, Arnold, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2016
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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