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Preventing Noninfectious Diseases

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Bring On The Parasites
Teacher Contributed

Bring On The Parasites

Adult hookworm, species Ancylostoma caninum

Topic

Medical Uses of Nematodes

Student Exploration

Hooked On Parasites

People often make the assumption that allergy sufferers have weak immune systems, actually it is just the opposite. Allergies arise from strong (some would say too strong) immune systems. The immune system detects a foreign invader and attacks it. Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, sometimes the effect of the attack is worse than the effect of the foreign invader. Researchers pondering this problem noticed an interesting pattern, the occurrence of immune system disorders was highest in areas lacking a curious little creature, the parasitic hookworm. Given this pattern, they started to think maybe giving the immune system something to keep it busy would calm it down and help these chronic allergy sufferers, maybe it would even help with autoimmune disorders. It was this kind of thinking that gave rise to "Helminthic Therapy" something that for some people proved to be a miracle cure.

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the "Hygiene Hypothesis"? What evidence supports this hypothesis? Does this seem like a reasonable hypothesis to you ? Why or why not?
  2. How do hookworms provide relief to allergy suffers? Explain the theory behind this treatment as fully as you can.
  3. How do people normally contract hookworms? What about industrial societies make hookworm infection less prevalent? Be as specific as you can in your answer.
  4. Do people suffer negative effects from being treated with hookworms? Why or why not?
  5. Do you think all people will respond the same to hookworms? Why or why not?

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