Recently, a fourteen year old boy from Uttrakhand district was admitted in a hospital alleged to be affected by anemia. When all efforts to treat him failed, the doctors finally tested his gastro intestinal tract. They found hundreds of hookworms present in the intestinal tract. It was estimated that the hookworms harbored in his intestine have sucked about 22 liters of blood.
We approached Dr R Kannan, Gastroenterologist, to learn about how dangerous those hookworms are, what are the health problems they pose and how to find them out inside our body.
“It would be shocking to know about their impact in our body. There are two species of hookworms that affect human beings, Ancylostoma duedenale and Necator americanus. Mostly they are found to be present in tropical regions of the world, including the continents of Asia, America, Australia and Europe.
Normally, the larval stages of hookworms are found in the soil and agriculture farm lands. They are capable of penetrating the soles of those who pass by. Those who walk with bare foot are their target. That too, it is easier for them to penetrate the tender soles of children. They don’t spare even the animals.
At first, the eggs of hookworms reach the land through one’s feces. Then the eggs hatch out depending on the moisture content of the soil and conducive ambient temperature. Once hatched out they grow rapidly and await an opportune moment. When people walk away with bare foot they will penetrate into their bodies through their soles. Then they will reach their lungs through blood vessels and lymph nodes.
From the lungs they reach the oral cavity and finally reach small intestines where they rule over intensely. The larva will become matured worms, sitting cozily in the intestines, sucking nutrients from the blood vessels, as much as possible. That location proves them to be comfortable to live in without any hassles. By virtue of the favorable conditions they reproduce rapidly, laying thousands of eggs, getting into an important task of preserving its generations.
The eggs of the hookworms present in the intestinal tract will periodically get out of the tract during defecation. Due to defecation in the open areas and farm lands and not using proper toilets, the eggs will reach the soil and become larva soon. Therefore, they play the game of cycling in and out. The larval stages of hookworms get the contact of human skin to get matured into adult works within the body of human beings.
Anemic condition happens in a person when the hookworms suck the blood of the target. There are many who are suffering from the condition of anemia, where there is loss of blood. Next is loss of appetite, followed by weight loss and those who are infected by hookworms suffer from poor health, gradually becoming weak and prone to various diseases. There will be series of sickness, starting from stomach ache, vomiting, dysentery, itching, eczema, rashes and other skin problems.
This condition will gradually lead to lack of physical and psychological development of the victims. The larva entering through the skin of a human being, reaches the lungs and causes respiratory problems, cough and fever, following one by one. The presence of hookworms that cause havoc in one’s health can be found through stool test and blood test.
These hookworms infect only those who live in developing countries. This is because, only in developing countries there are many who live in unhygienic environment. Further, pregnant women, children, farmers, plumbers and those who play closely with the soil remain easy victims to hookworms.
Generally, Albendazole, an anti-helminthic drug is used by government agencies to de-worm the school students. Half of 200 mg of the drug can be administered to kids between one and two year old. From two to 19 year old can be treated with 400 mg of the drug.
Similar to Albendazole, another kind of drug, Mebendazole can also be given to kill the hookworms. However it is recommended to have the drug in consultation with a doctor. Though those who are infected with hookworms get treated with these drugs, it is better to have greens, beet root, broccoli, and beans included in their diet. Further, it is better to have dates, dry grapes, fig, pomegranate, lemon, amla, sweet lime, orange, brown rice, egg, red pounded rice, badam, raghi and maize to supplement nutrients to the victims.
In order to avoid the hookworms penetrating our skin, especially the soles of our legs, it is recommended to wear slippers, avoiding walking with bare foot. In order to avoid open defecation, toilets can be constructed. Avoid using manure contaminated with feces. It is important to wear personal protective tools such as gloves and safety shoes while working in the gardens. Pet animals need to be periodically treated with drugs to de-worm them.
(This article written in Tamil by M Maria Belsin has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)