Sticky tape as a diagnostic device

On Friday at the hospital I was asked to see a patient who had a referral to the practice for a sticky tape test. The specimen collection team weren’t familiar with the test.

Rather than go into details on the interaction I had on Friday I thought I’d let you know about how a humble piece of sticky (or scotch) tape can help make a diagnosis.

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Enterobius vermicularis is better known as a pinworm. It causes Enterobiasis or pinworm infestation.

Pinworm usually affects children but can cause illness in adults especially institutionalised adults.

The disease manifests as itchiness around the anus and causes sleeplessness and restlessness.

The worm is transmitted via the faecal-oral route. Pinworm eggs get deposited on the skin around the anus and these get transferred to others, especially those who like to rim but more commonly as a result of poor toilet hygiene. It’s easy to understand why this is a disease common in childhood and why families become infested easily.

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Worms emerge at the anal verge a few hours after falling asleep. To make a diagnosis it’s best to get the worms and eggs as soon as the patient wakes up before any bathing or bowel movement. On waking, a short strip of sticky tape is applied to the skin close to the patient’s anus and applied to a glass slide. The slide can be sent into a pathology laboratory where it will be stained and examined using a light microscope.

Pinworm infestation gets treated with over-the-counter worming medications.