Hookworm: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help
Hookworm is a roundworm parasite which commonly causes small intestinal infections. This intestinal infection is characteristically associated with lung and skin affliction. Longstanding hookworm infection may lead to blood loss and subsequently anaemia. However hookworm infection is a treatable condition and results in complete recovery.
Hookworm: Incidence, age and sex
Hookworm infection is usually seen in places where sanitation practices are poor and hygiene inadequate. Almost 1 billion individuals worldwide are known to be afflicted with this infection. Individuals of any age may be afflicted with this infection. However, children and elderly individuals are more susceptible to such infections. Hookworm infection is more common in tropical and subtropical areas.
Signs and symptoms of hookworm: Diagnosis
Most of the individuals infected with hookworm do not exhibit any symptoms. However non specific features like low-grade fever, fatigue or generalised weakness may be experienced. Occasionally, intestinal affliction may manifest as mild abdominal discomfort, nausea, diarrhoea, blood or mucous in stools. Lung infestation with hookworm may be manifested by cough, wheezing and rarely, blood in the sputum.
A detailed history and examination may help in detecting this parasitic infection which may be confirmed by isolating the offending parasite in stool culture. A simple blood test may reveal low haemoglobin which signifies anaemia.
Causes and prevention of hookworm
This parasitic infection is caused by roundworms Ancyclostoma duodenale or Necator americanus. The larvae (immature worm) of these roundworms enter the body by penetrating the skin. A reddish itchy rash usually develops at this site of entry. The larva then travels to lungs via bloodstream and leads to their affliction. Sometimes these worms may get swallowed into the food pipe during coughing, from where they travel to the small intestine. The larval worms then mature into adult worms and suck blood by attaching to themselves to the intestinal lining.
Hookworm infection can be prevented by improving sanitation practices and maintaining adequate hygiene measures. Moreover, it is advisable not to enter contaminated water barefoot.
Longstanding hookworm infection may result in malabsorption of the affected individual. In fact, the most common and significant complication of hookworm infection is iron deficiency anaemia which results from chronic blood loss. Sometimes, extensive loss of proteins combined with malnutrition may result in a condition called ascitis, which is characterized by collection of fluid in abdominal cavity.
The effective treatment of hookworm infection includes anti-parasitic medications like Albendazole and Mebendazole. These drugs help in complete recovery by eradicating hookworm. However, pregnant women should refrain from taking these medications in view of their harmful effects on the baby. Furthermore, probiotic agents are recommended in individuals who are prone to such infections. These probiotics help in re-establishing the normal intestinal flora which may have been disturbed by the intestinal parasite. It is also essential to improve overall nutrition of the affected individual. Iron medication can also be prescribed in individuals with concurrent anaemia.