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john hawks weblog

paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution

Photo Credit: Hookworms attached to the intestinal mucosa. Source: CDC (via Wikipedia)

Link: A hookworm history in mining

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about hookworm infection for an essay, and I happened across a piece by Rebecca Kreston from Discover’s “Body Horrors” a few years ago: “Dark Pits of Disease: Mining’s History of Hookworm”.

I wasn’t really aware of the long association of hookworm and mining, later extended to tunnel-digging.

The extent of hookworm infection was properly assessed in the mid to late 1800s. The disease was recorded throughout the United States, Australia and and much of Europe (4). It was found in the gold and silver mines of Hungary, Sicily’s sulphur mines, and in the coal mines littering Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France (5). It was estimated that 20 to 90% of miners in Austria suffered from anemia in the late 1800s. More than half of the men slaving away in the goldmines in the California Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century were thought to carry hookworm, with some populations said to be infected at a rate as high as 80%. In 1916, when the California State Board of Health investigated the prevalence of hookworm among the 1400 miners based at the Grass Valley Gold Mining district in Sierra Nevada, all but two of the men were found to be harboring worms (1).