An estimated 576-740 million people in the world are infected with hookworm. Hookworm was once widespread in the United States, particularly in the southeastern region, but improvements in living conditions have greatly reduced hookworm infections. Hookworm, Ascaris, and whipworm are known as soil-transmitted helminths (parasitic worms). Together, they account for a major burden of disease worldwide.
Hookworms live in the small intestine. Hookworm eggs are passed in the feces of an infected person. If the infected person defecates outside (near bushes, in a garden, or field) of if the feces of an infected person are used as fertilizer, eggs are deposited on soil. They can then mature and hatch, releasing larvae (immature worms). The larvae mature into a form that can penetrate the skin of humans. Hookworm infection is mainly acquired by walking barefoot on contaminated soil. One kind of hookworm can also be transmitted through the ingestion of larvae.
Most people infected with hookworms have no symptoms. Some have gastrointestinal symptoms, especially persons who are infected for the first time. The most serious effects of hookworm infection are blood loss leading to anemia, in addition to protein loss. Hookworm infections are treatable with medication prescribed by your health care provider.
Image: L: Filariform (L3) hookworm larva in a wet mount. R: Hookworm rhabditiform larva (wet preparation). Credit: DPDx