Hookworm infection is caused by a parasite that lives in the gastrointestinal tract of the host. In the long term, it can lead to anemia and malnutrition.
Hookworm infection is an gastrointestinal infection caused by parasites of the Nacator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale species. It is within the group of soil-transmitted helminthiases that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), affect more than 1500 million people in the world.
This disease, in particular, causes infection in about 740 million people in the humid tropical and subtropical zones. It is estimated that 10% of the world population has this parasite, which causes intestinal and respiratory symptoms.
For all these reasons, the condition is a global health problem. This parasitosis causes growth retardation in infants, a reduction in productivity in adults, among many other things. Stay with us to learn more about it!
Symptoms of hookworm infection?
As indicated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hookworm is often asymptomatic in many cases. However, it is common for affected people to present an area of red and bulging skin, a fact that corresponds to the place of entry of the larvae of the parasites.
The larvae, once they enter the host’s bloodstream, travel through the heart and lungs to reach the small intestine. This can cause fever, cough, wheezing, and breathing difficulties. Some may suffer at this stage eosinophilic pneumonia, that is, an autoimmune reaction that affects the lungs.
According to the MSD Manual, once the parasites lodge in the intestine, the patient may experience severe pain in the upper abdomen, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and weight loss. In children and in people with long-lasting infections, the situation can be a bit complicated, with some of the following events:
- Iron deficiency and anemia due to bleeding from the intestinal wall.
- Chronic malnutrition due to the loss of proteins in the blood plasma.
- Defecation characterized by the presence of blood in the stool.
- Stomach ache.
- Abdominal pain and loss of appetite are just some of the symptoms of this parasitic infection. Some people have breathing difficulties.
How can the infection occur?
According to information from the Healthy Children’s Foundation, the infection occurs through contact with soil contaminated with human feces. The larvae, excreted with the stool of a sick person, can remain viable in the medium for 3 to 4 weeks and will infiltrate the epidermis of the new host as soon as they come into contact with it.
What animals can be infected?
Estimations are that, in some countries, up to 96% of dogs and 80% of cats can be infested.
Even so, it should be noted that these species are hosts for the parasites Ancylostoma caninum and Ancylostoma ceylanicum. These are not common pathogens for humans, although they can cause episodes of skin lesions. As they are not specialized parasites in our species, the clinical picture is much less severe and the infection less common.
Diagnosis and treatment of hookworm
In general, the diagnosis of hookworm is easy and straightforward. The parasites reproduce in the intestine and release their eggs with the feces, so an analysis of the patient’s stool is more than enough to confirm the pathology.
Sometimes you may need to do a blood test to check for anemia and iron deficiency.
According to the United States National Library of Medicine, the goals of hookworm treatment are to:
- Cure the infection.
- Treat the clinical complications caused by anemia.
- Solve malnutrition where it occurs.
- Albendazole, mebendazole, or pyrantel pamoate are usually the parasite drugs of choice in these cases.
In countries with cold climatic conditions and scattered rainfall, this pathology is not a problem, since the larvae proliferate in humid environments with 18-25 ºC and with rains above 1000 mm / year. In dry climates and in direct sunlight, the larvae die in a short time.
For this reason, this risk is for the tropical and subtropical areas with a low income or a low health situation. In these cases, recommendations are to follow the following indications:
Do not walk barefoot on the ground in any environment where there is a risk of the disease. Remember that the larvae of these parasites penetrate the skin.
Avoid eating unwashed food.
Defecate in environments where the stools are aseptical, never outdoors.
What is there to remember about this disease?
Hookworm is one of those infectious diseases that often go unnoticed by the general population, but are quite widespread in the poorest places. Although in many cases it is asymptomatic, over long periods of time it can cause anemia, malnutrition and more serious conditions.
For all these reasons, preventing contagion is essential. For that, it is convenient to prioritize hygiene and care. Try not to walk barefoot on humid lands in hot regions, and clean all food well before consuming it.
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