Hookworm Disease and its prevention

Port Blair
6 Jan 2017

Hookworm disease is one of the most common parasitic roundworm infections of the intestines. This disease is widespread in tropical and subtropical countries, where people may defecate in open and moisture in the soil is most favorable for hookworm eggs to develop into larvae (immature worms). As per World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, hookworm disease affects 740 million people worldwide. This disease is common in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, specially in Neil and Havelock Islands as well.

Hookworm eggs are passed in human faeces onto the ground, where they develop into infective larvae. The larvae stay in the soil, waving their bodies to and fro, until they come into the contact with human skin, usually when stepped on by bare foot. One can get infected with hookworms by coming into contact with soil that contains their eggs or larvae. The larvae enter the skin, travel through the bloodstream, and enter the lungs. They also travel to the windpipe and are carried to the small intestine, when one swallows. Fully grown, they can live in the small intestine for a year or more before passing out in the faeces. People who live in warm climatic areas with poor hygiene and sanitation, are more at risk of developing hookworm infections. Hookworms cause ulceration (wound) of intestine leading to bleeding, which in turn leads to Anaemia. Anemia is characterized by low haemoglobin, which can even lead to heart failure in severe cases. People are more at risk of having severe anemia, if they don’t eat well, during pregnancy, or have Malaria. Other complications that can develop from these infections include nutritional deficiencies and a condition known as ascites (Fluid collection in abdomen), as a result of low protein due to poor nutrition. Children who have frequent hookworm infections can experience slow growth and mental development due to loss of iron and protein.

If a person is healthy and eats food with plenty of iron, he/she may not get any symptoms of this disease. Symptoms of Hookworm infestation generally start with itchiness and a small rash caused by an allergic reaction in the area, where from the larvae entered the skin. This is generally followed by diarrhea and black coloured stool (malena) as the hookworms grow and burrow in the intestine. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, colic, or cramping and excessive crying in infants, nausea, fever and loss of appetite.

Though this disease can be treated by medicines, but as the saying goes “Prevention is better than cure”, it should better be prevented. One should not walk barefoot on the soil or sand, should not touch the soil or sand with bare hands, wear shoes when  walking outdoors and working in fields, especially in areas that might have faeces in the soil, drink safe water, practice proper hand washing, proper cleaning and cooking of food and. In areas, where hookworm infections are common, improving sanitation can reduce the number of infections. This includes using better sewage disposal systems and reducing open human defecation. By following these methods one can get rid of hookworm infestation and thus its ill effects.