A permanent vaccine for hookworm has passed clinical trials. The hookworm is one of the most pervasive parasites, affecting over 600 million people worldwide. The virus is also known for affecting mostly poor populations.

Hookworms affect over 600 million people worldwide. Image via Shutterstock .

The hookworm is a parasitic nematode (round worm) that lives in the small intestine of its host, which may be a mammal such as a dog, cat, or (often times) a human. Affecting over half a billion people worldwide, it is the leading cause of maternal and child morbidity in the developing countries of the tropics and subtropics. In susceptible children hookworms cause intellectual, cognitive and growth retardation, intrauterine growth retardation, prematurity, and low birth weight among newborns born to infected mothers. The worm is especially prevalent in developing tropical countries; studies showed incredibly high figures of infection in areas in India (42.8% in Darjeeling), Brazil (62.8% in Minas Gerais), Vietnam (52% in the northern parts of the country) and even China (60% in the Xiulongkan Village).

For all the high infection rates, hookworms are also especially nasty. The parasites mainly live in the small intestine, feeding from blood leached from the intestine walls they hook into; they can also live in the lungs. But the problem is manageable with adequate medical treatment – getting rid of an infection takes between a few days and (at the very most) a couple of weeks. But sadly, in many parts of the world, people either can’t afford the treatment, or they simply aren’t aware of it (in many cases, they aren’t even aware they’re infected). This is why a lifetime vaccine would definitely come in hand.

“Developing lasting solutions for hookworm and other NTDs trapping people in poverty requires comprehensive collaboration, cutting-edge science and leadership among health and policy leaders in endemic countries,” Peter Hotez, president of Sabin, has said.

The vaccine itself, as most vaccines, is made with some ingredients from the culprit themselves – namely a protein from the hookworm. When your body is exposed to the protein, it starts to generate antibodies, without having to actually fight the infection. Should the body be infected at some later time, it will recognize the parasite and adequately fight it.

While the vaccine itself shows immense promise, it may still be a while before it actually starts hitting the shelves or before it is implemented in the nations’ vaccination policy system. Even though phase 1 trials were successfully completed, it may take until 2020 for the vaccine to get a license.

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