Rights: The University of Waikato Published 18 October 2010 Download

Professor Graham Le Gros from the Malaghan Institute explains that hookworm is a terrible disease. It is a worm parasite (usually found in tropical countries) that can burrow through the skin. It will get into the blood stream and then go to the lungs and eventually to the stomach. It causes malnutrition and affects about a billion people around the world.


We are all familiar with worms in New Zealand, especially thinking of pin worm, that thing that is itchy in your bottom whatever when you’re a kid, and it’s all a bit embarrassing. That is a rather relatively harmless worm which just lives inside our intestine and then just goes out.

Hookworm – it’s a terrible disease. It is a much more sophisticated worm parasite that can burrow through our skin, usually our feet. It comes from contaminated soil, from the toilet, and so you see it in tropical countries and very warm countries. The parasite lives in the soil for three generations, and then it gets a habit, it wants to just go to warm animals like a human. And it will burrow through the skin, get into the blood and then go to the lungs.

We don’t really know quite how it gets to the lungs, but they migrate to the lungs, and then they get coughed up by that mucous that is pushing all the worms away, the worms are trying to be got rid of, but then it gets swallowed. And they live in your stomach for several months. And we call them hookworm because they have hooks around the mouth. And they latch onto the inside of the stomach wall, or the intestinal walls, and then start feeding off our blood. And they will just sit their sit their happily feeding and making lots of babies, which then get poohed out and make more of them, which infect more and more people.

So it’s a very serious disease. It affects about a billion people around the world in Africa, South America and Asia. It’s very hard to get rid of. You can treat it with a drug, but as soon as the drug is gone, you go walking again, and the worms all just burrow in again and infect you again. It actually causes malnutrition, takes all the iron out because it just feeds on blood cells. It’s a nasty disease.

Frank O Weaver,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license
Olivier Epron,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

Dan Chung, AMREF UK
CDC Centres for Disease Control & Prevention
Malaghan Institute of Medical Research