Bumisuka.com – Hookworm Infection in Humans and Is It Dangerous. Hookworm (hookworm) is a parasite that infects the intestines. Hookworm larvae (eggs) enter through the skin. Once they reach the gut, they hatch.
Hookworm, ascariasis, and whipworm are all roundworm infections. These parasitic worms are called soil-transmitted helmiths (STH) because their infection spreads through contaminated soil.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, an estimated 576–740 million people in the world are infected with hookworms. This is information about hookworm infection that is important to know.
1. Causes, risk factors, and spread
Reported by Merck Manual, hookworms can be spread when an infected person defecates on the ground or when human faeces are used as soil fertilizer.
If there are larvae in the faeces, they can hatch after 1 or 2 days under the right conditions. After hatching, the larvae can live for 3 to 4 weeks in the soil, it takes 5 to 10 days to mature in the soil. So, when you come into contact with soil that contains these larvae, the larvae can move to the skin. This can happen if you don’t wear footwear when walking on soil containing larvae and ingesting soil particles, for example eating unwashed vegetables.
After entering the body, hookworm larvae enter the bloodstream and lymphatic vessels of the body. This system carries the larvae to the lungs. From there, you can cough it up and swallow it.
When ingesting adult hookworms, the worms attach to the small intestine and feed on blood. In some cases, anemia occurs due to blood loss from hookworms. Worms can live more than 2 years.
Worms can mate in the small intestine. From here, thousands of eggs can pass into the feces.
Hookworms cannot be transferred to other individuals through personal contact. Infection can only occur when the eggs mature into larvae in the soil.
Some groups have a higher risk of contact with parasites. For example:
- Live in warm, tropical, or subtropical areas.
- Are pregnant or of childbearing age.
- Often spends time in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene management, especially when walking barefoot or with skin-to-ground contact.
- Sunbathing on soil contaminated with hookworm larvae.
- Plumber, electrician and exterminator.
- Young children in contact with contaminated soil or sandboxes.
- Workers in contact with contaminated soil, especially farmers.
The risk increases in areas where “night soil” or fertilizer derived from human waste is used.
Not everyone who is infected will experience symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, they are often localized itching or rashes that occur when the larvae penetrate the skin, usually on the bottoms of the feet. However, if the infection is severe, the following symptoms may appear:
- Weight loss.
- Lack of appetite.
- Stomach ache.
According to a 2018 report in the Journal of Acute Medicine, while most people who are infected experience no symptoms, hookworm infections can cause serious problems if left untreated, especially for pregnant women and young children.
The hookworm feeds on blood, and this results in internal blood loss, malnutrition, and anemia over time. Its long-term impact can have serious consequences for a child’s physical growth and cognitive development.
If you have symptoms of hookworm infection, your doctor will test a stool sample. The stool sample will be analyzed under a microscope to look for hookworm eggs.
If you’ve recently traveled to an area where hookworm infections are common, your doctor may recommend a blood test. A complete blood count test may show eosinophilia (eosinophils—disease-fighting white blood cells—are higher than normal in the blood). Signs of hookworm infection can appear several weeks before the eggs are in the stool.
Various treatment options are available for hookworms, including some that can treat the infection in just one dose. Because this treatment option is safe and effective, it is often given preventively without diagnosis or given throughout the community annually to keep the infection under control.
Hookworms can be treated with medication. It is possible to fully recover if you are treated before serious complications develop.
Hookworms can be easily treated with a number of anthelmintic drugs—such as albendazole, mebendazole, and pyrantel pamoate—which are designed to rid the body of parasites.
These medicines are taken for 1 or 3 days, depending on the type of medicine and the dosage. These drugs can be given to children aged 1 year.
2. Iron supplements
According to a 2013 report in Tropical Medicine & International Health, for children, pregnant women, and people who develop anemia due to hookworm infection, doctors often prescribe iron supplements in addition to anti-worm medications. This supplement helps restore the body’s iron stores. It is essential for making red blood cells which carry oxygen throughout the body.
3. Preventive chemotherapy
Hookworm treatment is sometimes given without stool testing for groups at high risk for hookworms in developing countries. This is called preventive medicine or preventive chemotherapy. The World Health Organization (WHO) designates the following groups as high-risk:
- Preschool and school age children.
- Women of childbearing age.
- Adults whose occupations are at high risk of hookworm infection.
5. Complications that can occur
If you have a hookworm infection that lasts a long time, you can develop anemia. Anemia is characterized by a low red blood cell count, which can lead to heart failure in severe cases. Anemia occurs due to hookworms feeding on blood. You are more at risk of developing severe anemia if you have a poor diet, are pregnant, or have malaria.
Other complications that can develop from a hookworm infection include nutritional deficiencies and a condition known as ascites. This condition is caused by serious protein loss and results in fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
Children with frequent hookworm infections may experience slow growth and mental development due to loss of iron and protein.
The steps below can help prevent hookworm infection. These can include:
- Wear shoes, especially in dirty areas with a high risk of contamination.
- Use a barrier to prevent the skin from touching the ground when sitting on the ground.
- Avoid consuming unwashed soil or food that may be contaminated with hookworms.
- Do not defecate on the ground or outdoors.
- Do not use fertilizers made from human feces.
- Close up of children’s sandbox.
- Take precautions such as wearing gloves and shoes when gardening.
- Caring for pet dogs and cats that have hookworms (hookworms can be found in pets including dogs and cats. Animal strains can spread to humans in some cases).
Make sure to take the preventive steps above to avoid hookworm infection.
Hookworm infections often cause no symptoms. If present, symptoms are usually localized rash, abdominal pain, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and weight loss. Over time, it can lead to anemia and malnutrition. If you experience it, see a doctor immediately.
Hookworm infection is treatable. The drug is taken for 1 to 3 days. For anemia, the doctor may prescribe iron supplements.