Hookworm review

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Hookworms are intestinal parasites that affect more than 500 million people worldwide. Once widespread in the United States, hookworm infections now disproportionately affect poor areas with limited access to sanitation and health care. The larvae of the worm live in contaminated soil, mainly infecting humans by burrowing into the soles of bare feet.

Despite the availability of safe and effective treatment, an estimated 576 to 740 million people are currently infected with hookworm, making it one of the most common neglected tropical diseases affecting humans.

Although most people infected with hookworms have no symptoms, people with long-term infections as a result can experience problems throughout their lives, especially children.

Illustration by JR Bee, Get Drug Information

Symptoms

Not all people infected with hookworm will develop symptoms. When they do, it will often be an itch or a rash where the larvae have penetrated the skin (usually the sole of the foot). However, those who are severely infected may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Weightloss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia

Although most infected people have no symptoms, the disease can cause serious harm if left untreated, especially in pregnant women and young children. Over time, the worms feed on blood, leading to internal blood loss, malnutrition, and anemia . Long-term exposure can have serious consequences for children's physical growth and mental development.

Causes

Two types of hookworms infect humans: Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus . The adult stage and larval stage of worms live in the human intestine and can spread through contaminated soil.

There are two main ways hookworms become infected: from the skin to the ground and by ingestion through contaminated food or water.

  • Skin to ground: Hookworms live in soil contaminated with feces. When people walk barefoot on the ground, the worm larvae penetrate through the foot into the body.
  • Ingestion: When people defecate in the open on the ground or use their feces as fertilizer, hookworm eggs can contaminate food or water sources and can be swallowed again or ingested by others.

Hookworm life cycle

The life cycle of a hookworm is very similar to that of other intestinal parasites. The worm's eggs are present in the feces of infected people. When people defecate in the open (rather than in a toilet or bathroom) or when feces are collected for use as fertilizer, the eggs end up in the ground.

Over time, the larvae hatch from the eggs, which then continue to mature. When people come into contact with their skin with the ground, for example when they walk barefoot or when children play in the mud, the larvae penetrate the skin and enter the human body. The same can happen if people eat food or drink water contaminated with eggs that may have been in the ground. In either case, the larvae enter the intestine, where they mature into adults and lay eggs, continuing the cycle.

Diagnostics

Hookworm diagnosis is a relatively simple and straightforward process. Doctors or other health professionals take a stool sample and look for hookworm eggs under a microscope. Since eggs can be difficult to detect if the infection is mild, the CDC recommends that healthcare professionals or laboratory technicians use a concentration procedure to increase the likelihood that the eggs will be detected.

Watch out

There are several treatment options available for hookworm, including those that cure the infection in a single dose. Because these treatment options are safe and effective, they are often given preventively to people without a diagnosis or delivered annually to entire communities to keep the infection under control.

Medicines

Hookworms can be easily treated with various anthelmintic medications , such as albendazole, mebendazole, and pyrantel pamoate, designed to remove parasites from the body. These medications are taken by mouth for one to three days, depending on the type of medicine and its dose, and can be given to children up to one year of age.

Iron supplements

For children, pregnant women, or others who develop anemia as a result of hookworm infections, health care providers often prescribe iron supplements in addition to pinworm medications. These supplements help restore the body's iron stores, which are necessary for the production of red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body.

Preventive chemotherapy

An important part of treating hookworm is preventing future infections. Unlike viruses or other germs, you can get hookworm over and over again throughout your life. The best way to prevent hookworms is to defecate in toilets or latrines, not outdoors, and avoid using human feces as fertilizer. However, this is not always practical for some communities.

Basic drug administration

Another tactic used to treat hookworms and other worms transmitted through contaminated soil is presumably to administer drugs to entire communities. The drugs used to treat these infections are inexpensive, often provided free of charge, and have no side effects.

As a result, countries can slow or stop the spread of the worm in a specific population by providing drugs periodically, such as once a year. Health workers, local health workers or others visit homes one by one to treat hookworm and other neglected tropical diseases.

Get the word of drug information

Although hookworms are no longer common in the United States, hookworms, along with other soil-borne helminths, continue to be the leading cause of disease worldwide, especially among those with limited access to effective treatment and sanitation. It is relatively uncommon for people who travel to areas with hookworms to become infected if they wear shoes and wash raw foods well. However, if you have any symptoms of hookworm, contact your doctor immediately for a helminth test and, if necessary, receive treatment.

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