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Deworming and the 'wash out' ... are they beneficial?

Published:Saturday | August 13, 2011 | 12:00 AM

It's fast approaching back-to-school time and apart from getting the books, uniforms and other school supplies, it is a common practice to deworm and 'wash out' our children before they go back to school.

It is thought that with all the idle time the kids had on their hands, they would have indulged in eating a lot of potentially harmful things and engage in activities which would cause them to contract worms. These now need removal, hence these interventions.

There is a lot of time for play during summer. Kids play barefooted in the mud, rain, river, etc. They also often eat with unwashed hands, and may eat improperly cooked food. These activities do facilitate their becoming infested with worms. Worms, though, rarely cause any problem and do not really need routine removal.

Worms beneficial

Worms have actually been found to have a beneficial effect on the immune system reducing the risk of allergic conditions. If they are present in high numbers, though, some may obstruct the intestines leading to vomiting, abdominal pain and swelling and constipation, e.g. the roundworm. Some (like the hookworm and the pinworm) may also cause small amounts of bleeding leading to anaemia, which can lead to poor school performance. But this is rare. Deworming is normally recommended twice per year so no harm done once the child is not less than two years old.

The 'wash-out' is often a very unpleasant activity, unlike the deworming, as the loss of bowel control can be very distressing. Parents often use a laxative herb (like senna) to give the large intestine of their child(ren) a thorough rinse!

Senna is classified as a stimulant laxative. This means that it stimulates the large intestine to release more fluids and electrolytes into it canal and it also causes it to contract, hence flushing out its contents. This activity is unlikely to be of any benefit to the child as the intestine's contents are usually free-flowing and do not accumulate (a common misperception).

Complications

In addition, there may be complications such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, prolonged diarrhoea, dehydration and severe loss of salts from the body. They are times when the child even ends up admitted in the hospital. This practice is more likely to cause harm than good and is, therefore, not recommended.

Dr Douglas Street is a general practitioner and has private practices at Trinity Medical Centre, Trinity Mall, 3 Barnett Street, Montego Bay, and Omega Medical Centre, Plaza de Negril, Negril. Send feedback to drdougstreet@yahoo.com.