Gut Worms May Protect against House-dust Mite Allergy

A study conducted in Vietnam contributes to medical views that parasitic gut worms like the hookworm, could help in the prevention and treatment of asthma and other allergies.

Led by Dr Carsten Flohr, a Clinical Scientist from The University of Nottingham, and Dr Luc Nguyen Tuyen from the Khanh Hoa Provincial Health Service in central Vietnam this is the largest double-blind placebo controlled clinical trial to date. It examines the potential links between hookworm and other gut worm infections as well as allergic conditions like asthma and eczema.

Parasitic worms have more or less been eradicated amongst human populations thanks to improved hygienic practices. However, some experts are of the view that over millions of years of co-evolution worms has found methods to dampen host immune responses to lengthen their survival inside humans. This could also be translated in to the fact that our immune system could become unbalanced without gut worms or other parasites. This could lead to allergic conditions such as asthma or eczema. However, keep in mind that such parasitic worms bring with them severe diseases and cause iron-deficiency anaemia in developing countries.

The study, conducted in a rural area of Vietnam was chosen as two out of three children had hookworm and other gut parasite infections, and allergies were rare. Around 1,500 schoolchildren aged 6-17 took part in the study.

Dr Carsten Flohr, The University of Nottingham said, “The next step is to understand exactly how and when gut parasites programme the human immune system in a way that protects against allergic sensitisation, and for such studies, follow-up from birth will be essential.”

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