Finally some evidence that I didn’t just imagine the correlation between hookworms and the state of the Confederate Army.

The hookworm exacts a heavy toll on those infected but especially on those that are “poorly nourished, badly housed and equipped, and barefoot” (e). Symptoms include anemia, weight loss, fatigue, and impaired mental function; the heavier the worm burden, the greater the severity of symptoms. In fact, the weight loss, lethargy and reduced mental capacity brought about by severe hookworm infection earned the New World hookworm the title “the germ of laziness” (h). The popular image during the American Civil War of the lazy Southern redneck with “sallow skin, bare feet, scrawny neck, protuberant abdomen, retarded intelligence, and shiftless habits” undoubtedly derived from endemic hookworm infection and its debilitating symptoms (h).

This is from the highly recommended blog called (and about) Body Horrors.

I came across this factoid a couple of years ago in a book called, I think, The History of the American Outhouse, or something like that. (There is a surprising amount of writing on that subject, by the way. Lots of photo books, too. Coffee table books, I assume.)


2 thoughts on “Hookworms!

    • The popularity of outhouse coffee table books or hookworms? If I remember this correctly, the use of outhouses reduced the number of hookworm infections, because the ‘business’ falls into a sinkhole under the outhouse. If it stays on the surface, there is a surprisingly large radius of hookworm-infested soil around it and (I think) the worm has an odd life-cycle where it enters the body through the feet and then travels up to the intestines.

      Fascinating stuff.

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