Hookworm infection, or any parasitic infection in general, is a major nuisance to your health. It may seem mild at first, but complications that could develop when it goes untreated range from anemia to protein deficiency.
The CDC reports that between 576 to 750 million individuals have the infection globally. In the US, it used to be prevalent in the southeastern regions. However, cases have subsided over the years due to improved living conditions.
Nevertheless, anyone can be susceptible to hookworm, especially if you have pets who have the infection. That being said, the best thing to do if you suspect exposure to hookworm larvae is to get tested through a stool exam.
What Is Hookworm?
As the name suggests, hookworm (Ancylostoma duodenale) is a microscopic parasitic helminth (worm) known for its hook-like mouthparts.
You can get infected with a hookworm when you contact fecal matter containing its egg or larvae. Likewise, you can also get the parasite when walking barefoot or touching contaminated soil.
Hookworms in humans start with the skin. The larvae penetrate the skin layers, which causes localized itching, blisters, and a winding rash. For people with light infections, these symptoms may not be present.
Others may experience more apparent hookworm symptoms such as:
- Appetite loss
- Abdominal pain
- Sudden weight loss
- Coughing or wheezing
These symptoms often manifest when the growing larvae reach the digestive tract.
From the skin layer, the larvae continue to move until it reaches the bloodstream. At this point, it gets taken into your heart or lungs. As you cough them out, they take the route towards the small intestine and attach to the walls using their mouth’s sharp cutting plates. Then, they suck your blood for nutrients, which causes anemia.
How Is Hookworm Infection Diagnosed?
Detecting hookworm infection follows a standard and simple diagnostic method. All you have to do is book a stool test.
In this process, you will only need to provide a sample of your stool. After which, the medical technician will look for hookworm eggs or larvae through a smeared sample using the microscope. These larvae are expected to contaminate the feces following its life cycle’s reproductive stage.
Reproduction is inevitable once the adult hookworm reaches the intestine and makes camp on its lining. As a result, the larvae get mixed with the feces. As other people or animals get in contact with the fecal matter, the cycle resumes. Hence, a stool exam remains effective in detecting hookworm larvae.
Your doctor may also require a complete blood count (CBC) to support the diagnosis. This test will assess the number of red blood cells (RBCs) as hookworms cause blood loss.
Plus, white blood cells (WBCs), specifically the parasite-fighting eosinophils, will be measured. So, naturally, higher than normal values of the said WBC entail parasitic infection.
Get Tested for Hookworm in Three Steps
Taking a stool exam has never been more convenient since telehealth was established. By arranging your lab test online, you don’t have to take multiple trips to the laboratory. Additionally, you get easy access to your results, which speeds up your treatment.
If you’re wondering how to get tested for hookworm online, check the following steps.
- Create an Online Account Through Personalabs
You can order a stool test for ova and parasites online through Personalabs. Simply create an account and choose a lab provider (Quest or LabCorp). Then, proceed to checkout and generate your lab order. Bring a copy of the order to the lab of your choice.
- Submit Your Sample to a Partner Laboratory
It’s important to understand that the stool exam is not an at-home test considering the nature of the diagnostic test, which requires equipment and expertise. You have to choose which of Personalabs 4,000 lab partners you want your sample to get processed.
- Wait for the Lab Test Results
Once you provide your sample, all you have to do is wait for the results, which will be discreetly sent through your account. If you got a positive test for hookworm, you could be assigned to a licensed doctor for an online appointment. During this time, you can present your symptoms and the test result so the doctor can prescribe a medication or order more diagnostic tests.
Ordering a stool exam online allows efficient diagnosis and treatment. You don’t even have to secure a doctor’s order from a clinic as it already comes with the purchase.
Treatment for Hookworm Disease
To get rid of intestinal hookworms, you will have to take anthelmintic drugs such as mebendazole, pyrantel pamoate, and albendazole. On the other hand, if the infection has just started on the skin, you can apply thiabendazole to relieve the rash and kill off the larvae.
Hookworm treatment often lasts 1 to 3 days. After which, it’s best to check if you still experience peripheral symptoms. You can also opt for another stool exam to verify the complete elimination of the hookworm. Your doctor may also prescribe iron supplements if you have anemia.
Can You Get Hookworms From Your Dog?
You can get a hookworm infection from your dog, cat, or other infected pets. Hookworms and other parasitic worms are zoonotic, which means they can transfer from animals to humans.
If your dog has been infected with hookworms, you can contract the larvae from your dog’s feces. For example, this could be the case if your dog poops all around your home and you usually walk barefoot.
Likewise, if you’re not wearing gloves when handling the stool, you also increase your risk of getting the parasitic infection.
Hookworm larvae can also be transmitted from your dogs through licking. Remember that dogs love to get busy with their privates, which are close to their anus. So, if you love getting kisses from your dog or cat, you become susceptible to the disease.
Once your dog or cat gets diagnosed with hookworm infestation, you may want to consider getting tested yourself, especially if you experience hookworm symptoms like skin lesions.
How Serious Is Hookworm Disease?
Hookworms should not be taken lightly. Aside from the awful idea that you are harboring parasitic worms, the condition can lead to complications involving blood volume.
The biggest health consequence of hookworm disease is blood loss. As mentioned above, the sharply curved mouthparts of a hookworm attach to the intestinal lining allowing the helminth to suck your blood for nourishment. As a result, you may experience related disorders such as the following:
Iron-deficiency anemia can be expected if you got hookworms in your intestines. Although anyone can get infected by the parasite, children suffer more from blood loss as anemia can impair their cognitive development.
Symptoms of anemia include the following:
- Pale skin
- Brittle nails
- Chest pain
- Appetite loss
- Odd cravings
- Irregular heartbeat
- Cold hands and feet
Your body needs protein, a macromolecule responsible for many physiological processes. As protein gets derived and broken down from food, they get transported to tissues by the blood cells. So with the hookworm sucking your blood in, it leads to protein loss which affects the functions of many organs.
Symptoms of protein deficiency:
- Flaky skin
- Brittle nails
- Hair thinning
- Cravings for foods high in protein
If these conditions go untreated, they can escalate to other chronic diseases and disrupt your metabolism as a whole.
How Do You Prevent Getting Hookworms?
Protecting yourself and your household from hookworm infection can be condensed into simple actions. For specific preventive measures against hookworm infestation, check out the following:
- Deworm your pets regularly
As cats and dogs can get hookworm from digging soils or having contact with contaminated feces, it only makes sense to get them dewormed. Think of it as cutting the potential transmission from the source.
- Use gloves when handling feces or soil
If you’re fond of gardening or handling soil, wear gloves, so you don’t have to touch the dirt directly. Parasites are often embedded under the nails. Hence, they may still survive even when you wash your hands.
- Clean your house regularly
Your priority in keeping your home parasite free is cleanliness. Make sure people don’t drag contaminated soil inside your home. If it’s inevitable, clean it up immediately.
- Avoid walking barefoot
As freeing as it may be, walking barefoot increases your chances of harboring hookworm larvae. So, whether it’s outside or inside your home, it’s always beneficial to have your footwear on.
- Wash your hands frequently
Regular hand washing is a standard habit for preventing any form of infection. However, you have to make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This way, you can get rid of the larvae completely. Also, make sure to cut your nails if you’re handling soil.
Taking charge of your health means protecting yourself from parasitic infections such as hookworm disease. While getting immediate testing helps you avoid complications such as anemia and protein deficiency, preventing the transmission remains the most robust solution against the infection.