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Hookworm Control as a Strategy to Prevent Iron Deficiency

Rebecca J. Stoltzfus Ph.D, Michele L. Dreyfuss M.P.H, Hababuu M. Chwaya M.D, Marco Albonico M.D
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.1997.tb01609.x 223-232 First published online: 1 June 1997


The hookworms Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale infect approximately 1 billion people worldwide. The prevalence of hookworm infection increases with age in children, typically reaching a plateau in late adolescence, whereas the intensity of infection may continue to increase throughout adulthood. Hookworms cause intestinal blood loss in amounts proportional to the number of adult worms in the gut. The relationship between hookworm infection intensity and hemoglobin concentration is evident in epidemiologic studies, but may be apparent only above a threshold worm burden that is related to the iron stores of the population. Current hookworm control efforts are focused on reducing infection load and transmission potential through periodic anthelmintic chemotherapy. Several controlled trials have demonstrated a positive impact of anthelmintic treatment on hemoglobin levels, with best results obtained in settings where iron intakes were also increased. Evidence suggests that anthelmintic programs will have modest impacts on iron deficiency anemia in the short term, with greater impacts on more severe anemia. Hookworms are an important cause of anemia in women, who are often overlooked by current helminth control programs. Current WHO recommendations for use of anthelminthics in schoolchildren and women are reviewed. There is a need to clarify whether hookworms are an important etiology of iron deficiency anemia in preschool children.

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