The FDA has already warned people not to use a livestock dewormer as a “cure” for COVID-19, but what do you do when you actually suspect that you may be living with unwanted worms?! TikTok user Jessica Hickson found herself in that not-exactly-pleasant predicament in August, when she purchased an over-the-counter dewormer from Walgreens.
After drinking the milky liquid for several days, Hickson was horrified to discover that she did, indeed, have worms.
“So my butt crack was itchy for the last couple of days, and I was like, whatever, I shaved it on Saturday, and I only wear thongs, so it’s probably just irritated,” Hickson explained in the video. “No. It got worse today, so your girl decided to take a camera with the flash on down there, and I totally wish I wouldn’t have.”
According to Dr. Juan Dumois, pediatric infectious diseases physician at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, pinworms — the most common worms in the United States — may be the cause of the sensation Hickson described in her video.
“The most common initial sign of pinworms is a sensation of itching at the anus at night or first thing in the morning,” Dr. Dumois shares, adding that “abdominal discomfort” is also sometimes associated with the condition. “Occasionally, a pinworm may be seen in stool. Pinworms are only about a centimeter long, white, and as thin as a pin, hence the name. And they move!”
Video: Doctor warns against using animal deworming drug to treat COVID-19
The cause of pinworms is often “suboptimal hygiene,” such as when someone eats something without washing their hands. They can be found in dirt, deposited from the feces of animals. Children are typically more susceptible, as they often play outside.
While pinworms may be the most common intestinal worms, Ascaris or hookworms are also seen occasionally in the United States.
“Ascaris can cause intestinal problems, and the larvae sometimes burrow to other parts of the body to cause problems in other organs,” Dr. Dumois explains. “Hookworms tend to cause an itchy rash called a cutaneous creeping eruption. They are acquired in the same way as pinworms, by ingestion of the microscopic eggs after engaging in outdoor activities involving dirt.”
For those who suspect they have worms, it can be tempting to want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Hickson isn’t the only person on TikTok to try an at-home deworming method: Earlier this year, tons of TikTok users documented their experience of eating dried papaya seeds as a way to get rid of potential parasites. Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Health that the practice had “not been shown to be effective outside of a clinical trial setting.”
Deworming products, like the one Hickson purchased, can also be acquired at the drugstore — but it’s always best to see a physician, says Dr. Dumois.
“Some of the so-called deworming methods only clean out stool from the intestines, often leaving the worms or their eggs behind,” he notes. “We have effective medications that actually kill the worms without causing the significant diarrhea that is caused by the online deworming methods. Furthermore, the treatment sometimes has to be repeated a couple of weeks later to get any new worms that might have hatched from eggs that were not eradicated the first time around.”
Essentially, it's best to leave deworming to the experts — and not the recommendations of TikTok.