What is hookworm infection?
Hookworms are parasites. This means they live off other living things. Hookworms affect your lungs and small intestine. Humans contract hookworms through roundworm eggs and larvae found in dirt contaminated by feces.
Hookworm disease is one of the most common parasitic roundworm infections of the intestines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hookworm infections occur in an estimated 576 to 740 million people worldwide. This disease is widespread in tropical and subtropical countries where people may defecate on the ground and where the soil moisture is most favorable for hookworm eggs to develop into larvae (immature worms) and due to poor sanitation.
How common is hookworm infection?
Hookworm infection is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of hookworm infection?
You might not have any symptoms from the infection if you’re otherwise healthy and eat foods with plenty of iron.
If you do experience symptoms, they generally start with itchiness and a small rash caused by an allergic reaction in the area that the larvae entered your skin. This is generally followed by diarrhea as the hookworms grow in your intestine. Other symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Colic, or cramping and excessive crying in infants
- Intestinal cramps
- A fever
- Blood in your stool
- A loss of appetite
- Itchy rash
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes hookworm infection?
Parasitic roundworms, or hookworms, cause these infections. The two types of hookworms that cause infection are Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale. The eggs of these hookworms end up on the ground after passing through human feces. They hatch into larvae, which stay in the soil until they have a chance to break through human skin.
- Hookworm eggs are passed in human feces onto the ground where they develop into infective larvae (immature worms).
- When the soil is cool, the larvae crawl to the nearest moist area and extend their bodies into the air.
- The larvae stay in the soil—waving their bodies to and fro—until they come into contact with human skin, usually when stepped on by a bare foot, or until they are driven back into the ground by the heat.
You can get hookworms by walking barefoot over contaminated soil. In penetrating your skin, the hookworm larvae (immature worms) may cause an allergic reaction. It is from the itchy patch at the place where the larvae entered your body that the early infection came to be known as “ground itch.”
Once larvae have broken through your skin, they enter your bloodstream and are carried to your lungs. Unlike ascarids, another form of parasitic roundworm, hookworms do not usually cause pneumonia.
The larvae migrate from your lungs to your windpipe and are then swallowed and carried back down to your small intestine.
What increases my risk for hookworm infection?
There are many risk factors for hookworm infection, such as:
- Young children
- Women of childbearing age
- Pregnant women
- Women who are lactating
- Adults who work in occupations that put them at risk for heavy infections
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is hookworm infection diagnosed?
- Examination of a stool sample
- Blood tests to check for anemia and nutritional deficiencies
Hookworm infection diagnosis is made by identifying hookworm eggs in a sample of stool. Stool should be examined within several hours after defecation.
Blood tests for anemia and nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron, are also done.
How is hookworm infection treated?
Treatment for hookworm infections aims to get rid of the parasites, improve nutrition, and treat complications from anemia. Your doctor will prescribe medications that destroy parasites, such as albendazole (Albenza) and mebendazole (Emverm). These medications are generally taken for one to three days to treat the infection.
If the number of hookworm eggs in your intestines is large enough—more than 2,000 eggs per gram of stool—your healthcare provider will assume that the infection may cause anemia and start treating you. Your doctor might also have you take an iron supplement in this case. Your doctor will also help you recover from any nutritional deficiencies you have. If you have ascites, they’ll ask you to add additional protein to your diet.
If you have a hookworm infection that lasts a long time, you could become anemic. Anemia is characterized by a low red blood cell count, which can lead to heart failure in severe cases. Anemia results from hookworms feeding on your blood. You’re more at risk of having severe anemia if you also don’t eat well, are pregnant, or have malaria.
Other complications that can develop from these infections include nutritional deficiencies and a condition known as ascites. This condition is caused by serious protein loss and results in fluid buildup in your abdomen.
Children who have frequent hookworm infections can experience slow growth and mental development from losing iron and protein.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hookworm infection?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with hookworm infection:
You can lower your risk of becoming infected with hookworms by:
- Wearing shoes when you walk outdoors, especially in areas that might have feces in the soil
- Drinking safe water
- Properly cleaning and cooking food
- Practicing proper handwashing
In areas where hookworm infections are common, improving sanitation can reduce the number of infections. This includes using better sewage disposal systems and reducing human defecation that occurs outdoors.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- Hookworm infection http://www.healthline.com/health/hookworm#Overview1. Accessed 15 Jan 2017
- Hookworm infection. http://www.msdmanuals.com/en-sg/home/infections/parasitic-infections/hookworm-infection. Accessed 15 Jan 2017
- Hookworm Disease. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/hookworm-disease. Accessed 15 Jan 2017
Review Date: June 19, 2017 | Last Modified: June 19, 2017