A hookworm infection can be painful and have long-term consequences on human health, if allowed to remain and reinfect. Read more to learn how to eradicate an infection of this parasite as well as preventive measures, to keep such worms from spreading.
A parasite is an organism which feeds off a living being to support itself. There are many types of parasites, some show obvious signs of in-habitation, some don’t. The silent parasites can live off a host, breeding and thriving, all the while, destroying the host organism completely. One of the most deadliest of parasitic organisms is the hookworm, a type of roundworm, named after their bent “hook” like head.
They are tiny worms, maybe 1 cm in length, and 0.5 mm in diameter. Once these little guys have their “hooks” into you, they don’t like letting go. There are different species of hookworms. The Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale species infect humans only. Two other species, Ancylostoma ceylanicum and the Ancylostoma braziliense infect animals.
The occurrence of hookworms in humans takes place in following cycle: Hookworms are passed into the soil, from infected feces, where they grow into larvae. They raise themselves from the soil and wait for some unsuspecting host, to latch onto, mostly through the underside or sole of the feet. They penetrate the skin and travel upwards in the bloodstream. They reach the lungs and damage the bronchi and alveoli.
From there, they enter the windpipe and get swallowed, to end up in the small intestine. With their hooked heads, they bite and attach themselves to the delicate lining of the intestine. Now they feed in plentiful, sucking blood and devouring tissue to grow and populate. They are smart too, they lie flat along the intestine with hooks firmly embedded to avoid being washed away with waste. At the same time, they mate and lay eggs in the intestine, which pass away with waste and once again the cycle of infection begins.
Diagnosis and Symptoms of a Hookworm Infection
There are no fixed or easily recognizable signs of a hookworm infection. Some cases are even asymptomatic, where there are no symptoms at all. Here are some warning indicators of this infection:
- Repeated and severe itching on the feet or lower part of the legs
- Small bites and red lesions on the feet
- Coughing and wheezing
- Mild fever
- Pain in the chest and abdomen
- Vomiting and nausea
- Anemia symptoms
- Pale skin tone
The hookworm species that infects dogs and cats, cannot live in a human host and cause any serious harm. But their larvae can cause a skin disease called cutaneous larva migrans (CLM) or creeping eruption. As long as the larvae are alive, they move inside the skin, making a path, which causes a serious and painful itching sensation for the host. The area will turn a bright red, and sometimes a secondary infection can occur, if scratched repeatedly.
Diagnostic tests include blood work and a stools test. A complete blood count can establish the presence of anemia and missing nutrients. Stool examination is used in the detection of a parasitic presence in the body. Hookworms lay their eggs in the intestine, so that they leave the body through waste matter and can enter the soil. An analysis of a stool sample can show the presence of hookworm eggs and their number, to indicate the extent of the infection.
How to Get Rid of Hookworms
The first step in getting rid of hookworms, is using parasite-killing medicines. These are also called anthelminthic medications. They include drugs like Mebendazole (Vermox) and Albendazole (Albenza). Dewormers with Pyrantel pamoate as the primary ingredient, are used for treating animals and in some cases, are prescribed for humans as well. Albendazole is highly effective in cleansing or eradicating hookworms and has a good success rate in these type of parasitic infections. The dosage usually depends on age of the patient and the severity of the infection. The dosage amount is for 2-5 days. While such medicines wipe out or kill the worms, dewormers paralyze the worms and cause the body to flush them away with feces.
The presence of these worms can cause complications that are more dangerous than the infection itself. One such complication is anemia. Treatment of anemia is essential, to prevent it from worsening. The body is already in a weakened state and such a disorder can be life-threatening if ill-treated. Iron supplements like ferrous sulfate are prescribed, to help restore iron levels in the blood. A hookworm infection can cause loss of other nutrients in the body like proteins and lead to other deficiencies, so a proper healthy diet should be followed with supplements, if needed.
Preventive Measures Against Hookworms
- The actual risk with a hookworm infection, is reinfection. Parasitic infections have a very high chance of reinfection, especially in the case of hookworms, where nearly 80% of treated cases are reinfected within 3 years. The key to solving this issue is control and prevention of the hookworm itself.
- Hookworms enter the host through the soil. So avoid walking barefoot in areas, where there is open animal waste and known areas of infection. Wear shoes in tropical or moist climates and developing countries, where the rate of hookworm infection is very high.
- Do not defecate outdoors. Avoid areas where there may be open human waste matter. Some fertilizers are untreated and may contain human waste.
- Animals are highly vulnerable to such parasitic infections. Deworming pet cats and dogs can help in cutting down the risk of infection. Clean up any animal waste and ensure your pet doesn’t eat or play in garbage or sewage matter.
- Moist, damp soil areas are regions where hookworms are breed and thrive. Try to ensure your pet defecates in an area, which receives some sunlight. An area of caution is public sandboxes, a favorite outdoor play-spot for kids. Animals tend to favor sandboxes for reliving themselves, so there is a chance a child could contract hookworms from an infected animal.
The risk of contracting hookworms is very low, in the United States. Infection through dogs and cats is more likely, that causes just a skin infection. The situation in other countries is not so rosy however. Unhealthy living conditions and poor sanitation methods are responsible for the very high chance of infection in developing countries. The approximate percentage is 80% chance of infection in moist, tropical climates.
Children and pregnant women are at a very high risk of infection. In some cases, an infected mother can pass on the worms to her lactating child. With nearly 600 million cases worldwide, implementing and following the correct “how to get rid of hookworms” steps will end the vicious cycle of a hookworm infection and prevent reinfection.