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Common Parasite Infections in Kids and How to Prevent Them

The presence of intestinal parasites in kids can wreak havoc on their digestive health. Data from sample studies revealed that rural areas have a higher prevalence of cases, with an estimated 38% of kids in the study found to have parasitic infections. Let’s review how parasite infections in kids can affect gut health. We'll explore the types of parasites common in kids, symptoms, risks, and prevention strategies.

What Are Parasite Infections in Kids?

Parasites are organisms that live within or on the human body. Infections from parasites are becoming more prevalent among school-aged kids in developed countries and in rural, low-resource areas in the Southern United States. [1]. 

The transmission of intestinal parasites is affected directly or indirectly by objects contaminated with feces. Oral-fecal person-to-person contact is the main transmission method of parasites. Common risk factors also includes:

  • Contaminated food and water

  • Improper nail and finger hygiene

Teaching your kiddos basic hygiene habits like hand washing after using the restroom is crucial for reducing the risk of infection. Agriculture and food production (e.g. raw fruits and vegetables) can also be one of the main sources of parasitic infections. Therefore, washing fruits and vegetables before eating can also go a long way in prevention. 

Types of Worm Infections in Kids

The most common worm infections in kids include [3]:

Type

Symptoms

Transmission Method

Pinworm

Anal itching, especially at night

Ingestion of pinworm eggs, often from contaminated hands or bedding 

Roundworm

Abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, blood in stool

Generally through ingestion of contaminated soil, water, or food

Hookworm

Itching and a localized rash are often the first signs of infection

Infection occurs through contact with contaminated soil, often when walking barefoot 

Tapeworm

Abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, and upset stomach

Consuming undercooked or contaminated meat, particularly pork or beef

Whipworm

No symptoms with light infection painful

Ingesting soil or food contaminated with whipworm eggs 

Threadworm

Itch where the worm enters the skin (similar to a bug bite)

Infection often occurs through skin contact with contaminated soil 


Symptoms of Parasitic Infection in Kids

In kids, these parasites can manifest in a variety of health issues, such as:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Itching around the anus

  • Teeth grinding

  • Bed wetting, or frequent urination (enuresis)

  • Difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep

  • Weight loss, or difficulty gaining weight

  • Irritability, mood swings and anxiety

  • Frequent urinary tract infections (particularly in girls)

Digestive upset is the most common symptom [2]. Parasites affect physical health and can impact a kid’s emotional well-being and development [4]. Chronic health issues can lead to missed school days, social isolation, and decreased overall quality of life. 

Testing For Parasitic Infections

It's important to note that some worm infections can be asymptomatic or present with mild symptoms, making them challenging to diagnose. The simplest way to find worms is the tape test. This involves placing sticky tape over the perianal area immediately after waking up for three days in a row. You must then check the tape for signs of parasitic eggs or worms. 

You can also seek the attention of a Functional Medicine or Naturopathic doctor who can order a stool test. I have found that the most accurate stool tests are those that use shot-gun whole genome DNA sequencing.

Begin Health Expert Tip

Did you know we offer a Kiddo Poop TestA stool analysis is one option for parents to learn more about gut imbalances in their kiddos, including any potential parasites. Our Kiddo Poop Test uses shot-gut metagenomic DNA sequencing to provide a personalized gut health report with actionable insights from our team of pediatric health experts. Click here for more information about our Kiddo Poop Test.

Preventing Parasite Infections in Kids

Prevention is key when it comes to protecting your kid from parasite infections. Here are some strategies to minimize the risk:

  • Hygiene. Encourage good hygiene practices, such as regular hand washing before meals and after using the restroom. Emphasize the importance of thorough handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Teach your kiddo to scrub their hands, including under their nails and between their fingers. 

  • Proper Food Handling.Ensure food is properly cooked and stored to prevent contamination. Teach your kiddos about food safety principles, such as avoiding raw or undercooked meat and eggs. Additionally, emphasize the importance of washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption

  • Avoiding Contaminated Water. Be cautious when traveling to areas with poor sanitation and avoid consuming untreated water. When traveling to regions with questionable water quality, choose bottled or purified water for drinking and avoid using tap water for brushing teeth. 

  • Proper Nutrition Strategy. A lowered immune system, poor digestive health, and a poor diet can make your kid susceptible to infection. Reducing or eliminating your little one’s processed sugar intake will significantly improve symptoms by reducing the toxic load on the liver. This will help the immune system eliminate parasites and help manage your kiddo’s mood swings.  A simple treatment/prevention strategy is to make sure your kid consumes a balanced diet full of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

If your kiddo is a picky eater and has poor bowel movements, food sensitivities, or mood swings, it might also be a sign that there are mineral imbalances that could be putting your little one at risk for infection. A high-quality liquid mineral supplement (including magnesiumzinc, potassium, sodium, boron, and other trace minerals) can help boost your kid’s immune system.

Summary 

Parasitic infections in kids can lead to digestive discomfort. The top three most common parasitic infections include pinworms, roundworms, and hookworms, which can transmit through improper hygiene habits. A stool test, such as our Kiddo Poop Test can help reveal intestinal parasites in kids. Prevention through proper hygiene, food handling, avoiding contaminated water, and balanced nutrition is key to preventing parasite infection in kids. 

References

[1] Alsubaie, A. S. R., Azazy, A. A., Omer, E. O., Al-shibani, L. A., Al-Mekhlafi, A. Q., & Al-Khawlani, F. A. (2016). Pattern of parasitic infections as public health problem among school children: A comparative study between rural and urban areas.Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences,11(1), 13-18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtumed.2015.10.006

[2] Hechenbleikner, E. M., & McQuade, J. A. (2015). Parasitic Colitis.Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery,28(2), 79-86.https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0035-1547335

[3]CORRY JEB KUCIK, LT, MC, USN, GARY L. MARTIN, LCDR, MC, USN, AND BRETT V. SORTOR, LCDR, MC, USN, Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Florida Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(5):1161-1169https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2004/0301/p1161.html

[4]Jasti A, Ojha SC, Singh YI. Mental and behavioral effects of parasitic infections: a review. Nepal Med Coll J. 2007 Mar;9(1):50-6. PMID: 17593680.



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