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This is a good subject to discuss in greater detail as it is rarely a topic of conversation in social circles, yet it is important to those who are concerned about potential pathogens in compost. Therefore, let's look at the most common of human worm parasites: pinworms, hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.


A couple of my kids had pinworms at one time during their childhood. I know exactly who they got them from (another kid), and getting rid of them was a simple matter. However, the rumor was circulated that they got them from our compost. We were also told to worm our cats to prevent pinworms in the kids (these rumors allegedly originated in a doctor's office). Yet, the pinworm life cycle does not include a stage in soil, compost, manure, or cats. These unpleasant parasites are spread from human to human by direct contact, and by inhaling eggs.

Pinworms (Enterobius vermicularis) lay microscopic eggs at the anus of a human being, its only known host. This causes itching at the anus which is the primary symptom of pinworm infestation. The eggs can be picked up almost anywhere; once in the human digestive system they develop into the tiny worms. Some estimate that pinworms infest or have infested 75% of all New York City children in the three to five year age group, and that similar figures exist for other cities.34

These worms have the widest geographic distribution of any of the worm parasites, and are estimated to infect 208.8 million people in the world (18 million in Canada and the U.S.). An Eskimo village was found to have a 66% infection rate; a 60% rate has been found in Brazil, and a 12% to 41% rate was reported in Washington D.C.

Infection is spread by the hand to mouth transmission of eggs resulting from scratching the anus, as well as from breathing airborne eggs. In households with several members infected with pinworms, 92% of dust samples contained the eggs. The dust samples were collected from tables, chairs, baseboards, floors, couches, dressers, shelves, window sills, picture frames, toilet seats, mattresses, bath tubs, wash basins and bed sheets. Pinworm eggs have also been found in the dust from school rooms and school cafeterias. Although dogs and cats do not harbor pinworms, the eggs can get on their fur and find their way back to their human hosts. In about one-third of infected children, eggs may be found under the fingernails.

Pregnant female pinworms contain 11,000 to 15,000 eggs. Fortunately, pinworm eggs don't survive long outside their host. Room temperature with 30% to 54% relative humidity will kill off more than 90% of the eggs within two days. At higher summer temperatures, 90% will die within three hours. Eggs survive longest (two to six days) under cool, humid conditions; in dry air, none will survive for more than 16 hours.

A worm's life span is 37-53 days; an infection would self-terminate in this period, without treatment, in the absence of reinfection. The amount of time that passes from ingestion of eggs to new eggs being laid at the anus ranges from four to six weeks.35

In 95% of infected persons, pinworm eggs aren't found in the feces. Transmission of eggs to feces and to soil is not part of the pinworm life cycle, which is one reason why the eggs aren't likely to end up in either feces or compost. Even if they do, they quickly die outside the human host.

One of the worst consequences of pinworm infestation in children is the trauma of the parents, whose feelings of guilt, no matter how clean and conscientious they may be, are understandable. However, if you're composting your manure, you can be sure that you are not thereby breeding or spreading pinworms. Quite the contrary, any pinworms or eggs getting into your compost are being destroyed.36

Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: 1-800-639-4099.

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weblife.org | library | Humanure Handbook | Chapter 7: More on Parasitic Worms / Pinworms