Hookworms are parasites that live on other living things and affect humans mainly because of poor sanitation. They are found in warm, moist climates. The infection by hookworm in humans occurs when the larva or immature worms often found in soils contaminated with human feces get into the body of a person. The larvae can infect a person when bare skin gets in contact with the larvae infected soil. For example, when a person walks barefoot in grounds or soils that are harboring the larvae, they may get an infection.
Most of the infections occur in Africa, Southern Asia, China, and Americas. It is estimated that 576 to 740 million people are infected with hookworms around the world, according to Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), 2010. People contract hookworms by getting in contact with roundworm eggs or larvae that are found in contaminated soils. The two common worms that cause hookworm infections are Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale.
How are hookworms in humans spread?
Adult worms and larvae live in small bowel or small intestines of the person who is infected or even in animals. When a person who was the hookworms defecates outside such as near bushes and fields or the feces are used as fertilizers in gardens, eggs of hookworms may contaminate soil. They hatch in a day or two and release larvae.
The larvae develop within 5 to 10 days and can be able to pass through the skin and enter the body. A majority of the infections by hookworms occur by direct contact with the areas that are infected with the worms. Infections may occur if one put hands in mouth when they are contaminated with the larvae or eggs.
People who take unwashed or raw vegetables contaminated with eggs and larvae may also be infected. In body, larvae of hookworms will move in blood stream to reach the lungs, airways, throat, and finally the small intestine. In small intestine, larvae of the hookworms will grow to adult often attaching themselves on walls of intestines. They may begin to damage the intestinal wall causing blood loss. The worms are expelled from small intestine in about a year or two though at times, they can stay for longer.
What are the symptoms?
People who are otherwise healthy and take food that contain high amount of iron are unlikely to show symptoms of an infection by hookworms. However, when an individual does experience symptoms, they will primarily begin with itching and a rash, which develops as the larvae, enters the skin. This is due to allergy reaction during the time of penetration of the larvae through skin.
Diarrhea may occur when the hookworms grow in intestines. Some of the other symptoms, which may occur are fever, nausea, intestinal cramps, abdominal pain and colic. A person may experience loss of appetite and show blood in stool. The blood in stool is due to action of the hookworms when they attach on intestinal walls because they can cause small punctures on the lining tissue. They suck blood and tend to cause damage on the mucosa.
Hookworms and anemia
When hookworms remain in intestines for a long time, they are likely to cause anemia. This is due to the sucking of blood from the mucosa, which lowers the number of red blood cells and in severe cases, it may result in heart failure. In case you do not eat well, you may be at risk of developing severe anemia.
Other complications, which may occur, are such as nutritional deficiencies and ascites, a condition whereby there is serious loss of protein, which causes increased buildup of fluid within the abdomen. In children, an infection it may result in slow growth as well as retarded mental development because of loss of protein and iron.
Treatment of hookworm infections
Treating hookworms is intended to clear the parasites from the body and enhance the nutritional supply to a patient. Treatment may also help deal with complications such as anemia. A doctor prescribes medicines to kill the parasites for example use of mebendazole and albendazole.
Patients can take these medicines for about one to three days. Iron supplement may be taken in case a patient has developed anemia. Dietary changes may be recommended to deal with a situation of nutritional deficiencies mainly focusing on iron and protein. People with ascites will need to take more protein in their diet.
Prevention is key in dealing with hookworm infections
Hookworm in humans can be prevented by observing hygiene and sanitation. People can wear shoes when they are walking in outdoor environments, which may have soils contaminated with feces. Where hookworms are common, people need to uphold their sanitation standards by having better sewerage disposal and eliminating human defecation in outdoor areas.
People who are at risk of getting hookworm infections may be treated through preventive treatment or what is known as preventive chemotherapy. This kind of treatment identified people who may be likely to be infected with hookworms such as school age children, pregnant women, lactating mothers, and people working in environments that expose them to heavy infections.
Hookworms in Humans – Pictures
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