Hookworms lay eggs in the small intestine of a host. These are excreted and develop into larvae in the soil of warm humid climates. When a host comes into contact with the soil, the larvae burrow in, usually through bare feet. They eventually end up back in the small intestine to reproduce and start the cycle over again.
A rash develops at the site where the larvae burrow in through the skin. A minor infection can have no symptoms at all, but serious infections can cause abdominal pain, blood in the stool or sputum, anemia, fatigue and weight loss.
Parasite-killing medications are usually prescribed, and take 1 to 3 days to work. Anemia is treated with iron supplements.
Who's At Risk
Children are likely to get the parasite, due to their tendency to play in dirt. Also, pregnant women, elderly people, and those who are malnourished are at high risk for hookworms. There is a strain that can infect animals, so dogs and cats are at high risk for that form of hookworm.
Hookworm is not a common problem in the United States, due to strict sanitation laws and the elimination of outhouses. It was once a problem in the Southeast. The parasite is common in developing areas in the tropics and subtropics, including Africa, Australia and the Americas. If you are camping in a warm humid climate, especially where human feces may be in the soil, do not walk barefoot and avoid contact with the soil as much as possible.