Is there anything better than digging your toes into the warm sand on some beautiful, exotic beach? Well there is if that beach is riddled with hookworms that hope to burrow into your feet and make their way to your small intestine. If you do a lot of travelling to warm, humid locales, here’s how you can avoid these nasty little things.
Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife
Hookworms, if you haven’t already guessed, are a parasite. They pass from person to person by one of two ways: Walking barefoot on soil contaminated with infected human faeces, or ingesting hookworm eggs. The former is a big problem in many parts of the world where sewage systems are inadequate. When you gotta go, you gotta go, so people end up using holes, bushes or fields, then hookworm eggs are deposited into the soil where they can spread anywhere water moves the soil – such as downhill to the beach. The eggs grow into small larvae and spend the rest of their days hoping to latch onto some animal’s bare skin. Fun stuff.
Even the Southern US used to have their own major problem with hookworms. People couldn’t afford proper plumbing, so the parasite spread and spread and spread. In fact, the parasite is largely responsible for the stereotype of the lazy Southerner with a big belly and shoulder hunch who sleeps on their porch all day (all symptoms caused by rampant hookworm infection). Fortunately, the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease pretty much eradicated the problem there, save for a few cases here and there.
While you don’t usually have to worry about hookworms on beaches in Australia, they’re still a big problem in other parts of the world. Areas with warm, moist climates are all at risk, especially if sanitation and hygiene are poor. In case you were wondering what areas fit that description, here’s a useful map. Parts of South America, Asia, Central America and Africa are all possible homes to the parasite. It goes to show how prevalent hookworms are around the world.
There’s no immunisation you can get to prevent hookworms from infecting you, but it doesn’t take much to stop them. If you’re travelling to any areas that may have hookworms and plan on spending any time on the beach, or any area where you might be in direct contact with soil, here’s what Sara Chodosh at Popular Science says you can do to prevent infection:
- Wear sandals on the beach.
- Sit on towels or blankets when resting on the ground.
- Wash your skin with soap and water after you touch soil or sand.
That’s it! That’s all it takes. Hookworms are considered a “neglected tropical disease” because it’s generally pretty easy to prevent, but still such a big problem for many people. A little knowledge and a minor attempt at prevention goes a long ways.
According to the CDC, symptoms of hookworms include an itchy rash on the point of contact (usually your feet), as well as fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and anaemia. But if you do happen to get infected, don’t fret. Your healthcare provider will prescribe you a few pills that will take care of the parasites in a matter of days.