Trying to Get the World Unhooked From Hookworm

Thursday, July 23, 2015

This week, Goats and Soda learned of a pretty icky research experiment taking place in our nation’s capital. People are becoming infected with hookworm in the name of science, as researchers seek to develop a vaccine.

An article in the Washington Post reported that a small group of brave volunteers are letting the parasites enter their skin and then are living with the worms in their body for three months. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, they also have to bring in weekly stool samples.

Hookworm disease is the leading cause of anemia and protein deficits in developing nations, affecting an estimated 740 million people, mainly in the tropics of Africa (especially in sub-Saharan Africa), India and the Indian subcontinent, South America and Southeast Asia.

Hookworm is spread when an infected individual defecates outside, leaving behind stool that’s contaminated with hookworm eggs. These eventually hatch, contaminate the soil and cling to anyone walking by barefooted, who can then be infected.

To learn more about hookworm, we chatted with Dr. David Diemert, an infectious disease expert at George Washington University. He leads the vaccine project, which is sponsored by the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

Hookworm is considered a neglected tropical disease. Why is that?

This is one of the most important parasitic infections in terms of global health impact. Most of the people who have it are in rural, poor areas of the world. It’s not at all a disease of the developed world. People who get it tend to be neglected by healthcare systems.

Source: NPR (link opens in a new window)

Health Care