In 1975 as I was returning to the ‘L’ after a day of shooting in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, I spotted this woman. She was in slippers and pregnant, staring blankly at something across Broadway as if in a trance. The first thought that ran through my mind was, “At least she’s not barefoot!” I’ve commented several times in this blog about the number of barefoot people in Uptown.
A reader with a medical background emailed me to say that hookworm was a large problem in Uptown during this era. Hookworms live in the soil and enter the body through bare feet. Then they migrate to the intestines. There, they suck blood and cause iron deficiency anemia. Hookworms are still one of the major public health concerns in the world. They infect as many as one billion people. In the U.S. they live primarily in warmer climates – in the South, along the Gulf Coast, and west to Texas.
Many people who migrated to Uptown from the South or Appalachia were used to going barefoot. They had contracted the parasites where they originally lived and brought hookworms to Chicago with them.