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The Hookworm Vaccine

A new hookworm vaccine is the hope of millions of infected people in Africa. Although it is experimental and will be the first African clinical trial for this parasite, it is already scheduled for 2014 because hookworm infestations are rampant among the African poor. Over 102 trial participants, ages 18 to 45 will be given the vaccine over a four month period and be rechecked after a year. Once the adult participants remain safe and have positive immune responses, children will be given the vaccines. These trials will begin in Gabon, Africa.

Hookworms are easily transmitted to children who walk around barefoot. Most children who also suffer from malnutrition are attacked by the parasite and become extremely weak, which leads to learning problems and stunted growth. These parasites drain the blood of any individual and eventually cause anemia. Hookworms also infest adults and cause financial strains on the family as men and women gradually weaken from loss of blood. Even pregnant women are not free from danger since their fetus is also affected from the blood loss. These worms enter the body through the feet. Once they are inside the bloodstream they travel towards the lungs. From the lungs they reach the intestines where they grip the interior walls with their two sets of teeth. Here they are able to remain attached, suck any quantity of blood and grow to half an inch long.The aim of the hookworm vaccine is to create antibodies which will slowly kill the worms. As the antibodies are formed, it will work against two enzymes present in the hookworm’s gut. One enzyme processes iron in its blood diet and the other enzyme allows for digestion of blood proteins. As the antibodies fight against these enzymes, the hookworm’s energy source weakens and will eventually die.

Clinical trials are set for a minimum of five years regardless of whether there is   success with treatments. This vaccine could potentially be the answer to hookworm elimination which is the leading cause of iron deficient anemia among millions of the world’s poor.  Dr. Hotez, the director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute has been working on this vaccine for over 30 years. His effort and commitment over this lapse of time will surely be a victory to be seen.

–  Maybelline Martez

Sources: NIH, Medical News Today, New York Times