Understanding Hookworm

Two similar types of worms can get into your body and cause a hookworm infection. Hookworms can live and breed inside of people. Having a large number of these worms breeding and feeding inside you is known as hookworm infection.

What causes hookworm infection?

Hookworms survive in areas that are shady, damp, and warm. Their eggs are deposited when people defecate on the ground outside or when human feces are used as fertilizer. Hookworms survive in dirt in an immature (larval) form. Larval hookworms can get through human skin. You can be infected with hookworms if you walk barefoot in places where larval hookworms are in the dirt. You can also get hookworm by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. Once inside your body, hookworms travel to your intestines, where they breed. They attach to the intestines with their mouth and feed on human blood.

Hookworm infections are diagnosed using a microscope to look for hookworm eggs in stool samples.

What are the symptoms of hookworm?

Symptoms of hookworm infection are often mild and short-lived. People with a mild infection may not have any symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Itchiness and blisters at the hookworms’ entry points. These are usually on the feet or between the toes.

  • Abdominal pain

  • Weight loss

  • Anemia

  • Mild cough or irritated throat (rare)

  • Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or gas (rare)

How is hookworm infection treated?

Treatment for hookworm focuses on getting the hookworms and their eggs out of your body. This is done by taking a medicine that gets rid of the worms. Symptoms or complications may also be treated.

How can I prevent hookworm infection?

Hookworm infection can be prevented. Here are some ways to prevent hookworm:

  • Wear shoes outside if you are in a place known to have hookworm.

  • Don't let your skin come in contact with dirt in places known to have hookworm.

  • Use toilets. Don’t eliminate on the ground. Wash your hands every time you go to the bathroom.

  • Only drink water or eat food that you know is safe.

  • Always wash your hands before preparing food or eating.

What are the possible complications of hookworm?

Hookworm infection causes you to lose blood and protein through your digestive system. This can result in your not having enough blood or protein for good health. This is more likely in young children, pregnant women, or elderly adults. A low blood count (anemia) can cause symptoms such as weakness, tiredness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, and shortness of breath. Lack of protein can cause delayed physical and mental development.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider right away if you believe you may have a hookworm infection or develop symptoms of anemia noted above.

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