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"H" is for Hookworm

South Carolina From A to Z
SC Public Radio

"H" is for Hookworm. In the early 1900s Charles W. Stiles identified a worm, Necator americanis, as the source of an infection that plagued the American South. Nurtured in damp soil, hookworm caused severe anemia, stunted growth, and often mental retardation in victims. What made Necator most threatening was its soaring infection rate (in parts of South Carolina it ranged as high as thirty-five percent). The starting point of infection was the lack of sanitary privies in most of the rural and mill village South--picked up by barefooted Southerners. The larvae pierced the victim’s skin; traveled to the small intestines where they developed into worms that “hooked” onto tissue and began a blood-feeding that could continue for years. Thanks the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, by the 1940s hookworm was little more than a medical curiosity.

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Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.