Hookworm is a disease more commonly associated with third-world countries, but a small study out of Alabama suggests it has a disturbingly strong foothold in the US. The study by the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine focused on rural Lowndes County, reports the Guardian. The sample was small, with just 67 participants, but the results were striking—34% showed traces of the parasite. Given the high percentage, researchers plan to conduct another study with a larger sample size. Hookworm was common in the US decades ago, particularly in the Southeast, but improved sanitation and living conditions greatly reduced the number of cases, per the CDC. The new peer-reviewed study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, suggests it may be more common than realized.
"The concept of global health needs to give way to a new paradigm: on the new map, Texas and the Gulf coast would be lit up as a hot spot," Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, tells the Financial Times. Both newspapers note that residents of Lowndes County are generally poor and can't afford septic systems. As a result, sewage runs from their homes into their yards, conditions perfect for hookworm and other parasitic diseases. The worms typically enter the body through the soles of a person's bare feet and make their way up to the small intestine. Hookworm patients suffer a wide range of ailments, from anemia to iron deficiency to impaired mental function. It's "America’s dirty shame," says community activist Catherine Flowers, whose work calling attention to living conditions helped lead to the Baylor study. (Read more parasites stories.)