A couple of years ago it was all across the news that Nottingham university was trialling hookworms on asthmatics and hay fever sufferers, but then it all went quite, and I assumed it had been a failure and quietly dropped.
It seems I was wrong. A quote from an article from the project leader, a Dr Pritchard, stated:
Researchers at the University of Nottingham tested this by treating asthma patients with human hookworm. Again, the results were dramatic with nearly 70% of the patients demonstrating improvement.
And also in this publication.
Asthma and Current Intestinal Parasite Infection
Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Jo Leonardi-Bee, David Pritchard, John Britton and the Parasites in Asthma Collaboration
Division of Epidemiology and Public Health and School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Methods: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CINAHL (up to January 2006); reviews; and reference lists from publications, with no language restrictions. We included studies that reported asthma or wheeze as an outcome measure and ascertained parasite infection by fecal examination. We estimated pooled odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) using data extracted from published papers, or where available, original data provided by authors, using random effect models.
Measurements and Main Results: Thirty-three studies met the inclusion criteria. Infection with any parasite was associated with a small, nonsignificant increase in asthma risk (OR, 1.24; 95% CI, 0.98–1.57; 29 studies). In species-specific analysis, Ascaris lumbricoides was associated with significantly increased odds of asthma (OR, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.05–1.71; 20 studies), while hookworm infection was associated with a significantly strong reduction(OR, 0.50; 95% CI, 0.28–0.90; 9 studies) that was directly and significantly related to infection intensity (p < 0.001; OR for highest tertile of infection, 0.34; 95% CI, 0.19–0.62). Other species had no significant effects on asthma. Infection effects on wheeze were derived from smaller numbers, but revealed a broadly similar pattern of results.
Conclusions: Parasite infections do not in general protect against asthma, but infection with hookworm may reduce the risk of this disease.
Which ties in nicely with all the research about some parasites having a soothing effect on other autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. See link.
The medical community is quietly enthusiastic about the chance of acquiring new drug therapies from the study of these parasites, but seem to generally disapprove of the idea of deliberately infesting patients. This isn’t a sentiment a lot of the patients share, as several refused to eliminate the hookworms when the Nottingham study concluded. I myself have no issues with having a dozen hookworm if I’ll still be able walk and see in ten years time. It’s not the ideal situation, but it beats a catheter and motorized wheelchair any day.
Some patients are so desperate to get their hands on hookworms that a private clinic has opened to infest them. It costs $3,900 dollars, and a return ticket to Mexico. There’s even a Yahoo group called the ‘helminthic therapy group’ that’s interested in whipworms to treat Crohn’s.
I have hay fever too. Would it be dishonest of me to enrol in the Nottingham study just to treat my MS? What it really need is a UK study of MS and parasites to enter. The Argentinian study (small scale) had teh control group having fifty six relapses, but the parasite infested only having three. Quite honestly, reducing my MS by a factor of 18 is very appealing.