After one Tennessee teenager reported a severe hookworm infection following visiting a Florida beach, the chances are people across the country are worrying about encountering the same fate. Fortunately, hookworm infections in the United States are rare. Most cases worldwide arise from countries where hygiene standards are poor, which means your overall risk is relatively low. However, if you do want to enjoy an anxiety-free trip to the beach this summer it’s worth learning more about the parasite and how to prevent it.
What is a hookworm and how do they infect humans?
Hookworms are parasites that love to thrive off other living things. They usually spread via human feces, which means they’re epsecially common in regions where hand hygiene is poor. In some cases, animals that catch hookworms can spread them. Most notably this happens in settings such as beaches. Why? Because when Fido needs to empty his bowels in a coastal area, no place seems better than the sand.
The CDC itself admits that hookworm infections in the United States are rare. As such, it should come as no surprise if a local authority doesn’t warn you against their perils. You may also feel reassured by the fact that most people who encounter hookworms don’t develop severe symptoms. In severe cases, they may cause symptoms like the ones the Tennessee teenager encountered. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and anemia are also very rare side effects.
How can I protect myself against hookworm infections?
It’s probably worth stressing that now isn’t the time to cancel all of your beach plans. However, if the thought of digging your toes into the sand leaves you feeling uneasy, use common sense precautions.
Avoiding beaches that allow animals is a good starting point. However, the main way hookworms make their way into your body is via your hands and into your mouth. This means that children and anybody else who doesn’t engage in great hand hygiene are at risk.
Therefore, you might want to consider upping your hand hygiene game with hand sanitizers and washing them regularly. If you’re a parent, this means paying close attention to what your children are doing.
It is rare that a hookworm will cause a localized skin infection. But, it isn’t impossible. When such infections do occur they usually arise in sub-tropical environments. If you’re planning on venturing to one, avoid walking barefoot on beaches and don’t touch the soil with your hands.
Common hookworm infection symptoms and treatment methods
If you do become one of the unlucky few who encounters a hookworm infection it’s worth knowing what the symptoms are. They include:
- Abdominal cramps
- A cough, if the infection advances to the lungs
- A rash that looks like a red line that grows progressively larger
- In the case of hookworm larvae you may have a non-specific itchy rash
If you believe you have an infection, approach your family physician. They can perform a physical examination that differentiates your symptoms from those of a hookworm infestation. Should they find that hookworms are the likely cause, they’ll administer a short course of medication to remove them from your body.
Although the idea of a hookworm infection isn’t pleasant, it’s not a common occurrence in the United States. So, don’t deter your usual beach plans. Just exercise a little more caution instead.