Hookworm infection

Toggle: English / Spanish

Definition

Hookworm infection is caused by roundworms. The disease affects the small intestine and lungs.

Alternative Names

Hookworm disease; Ground itch; Ancylostoma duodenale infection; Necator americanus infection; Parasitic infection - hookworm

Causes

The infection is caused by infestation with any of the following roundworms:

  • Necator americanus
  • Ancylostoma duodenale
  • Ancylostoma ceylanicum
  • Ancylostoma braziliense

The first 2 roundworms affect humans only. The last 2 types also occur in animals.

Hookworm disease is common in the moist tropics and subtropics. In developing nations, the disease leads to the death of many children by increasing their risk for infections that their bodies would normally fight off.

There is very little risk of getting the disease in the United States because of advances in sanitation and waste control. The important factor in getting the disease is walking barefoot on ground where there are feces of people who have hookworm.

The larvae (immature form of the worm) enter the skin. The larvae move to the lungs via the bloodstream and enter the airways. The worms are about one half inch long.

After traveling up the windpipe, the larvae are swallowed. After the larvae are swallowed, they infect the small intestine. They develop into adult worms and live there for 1 or more years. The worms attach to the intestinal wall and suck blood, which results in iron deficiency anemia and protein loss. Adult worms and larvae are released in the feces.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

Most people have no symptoms once the worms enter the intestines.

Exams and Tests

Tests that can help diagnose the infection include:

Treatment

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Cure the infection
  • Treat complications of anemia
  • Improve nutrition

Parasite-killing drugs such as albendazole, mebendazole, or pyrantel pamoate are often prescribed.

Symptoms and complications of anemia are treated, if needed. The health care provider will likely recommend increasing the amount of protein in your diet.

Outlook (Prognosis)

You will have a complete recovery if you get treated before serious complications develop. Treatment gets rid of the infection.

Possible Complications

Health problems that may result from hookworm infection include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if symptoms of hookworm infection develop.

Prevention

Handwashing and wearing shoes will reduce the likelihood of infection.

References

Diemert DJ. Intestinal nematode infections. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 357.

Hotez PJ. Hookworms (Necator americanus and Angylostoma spp.). In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 292.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 9/10/2015
  • Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch)

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.