Dear Dr. K: A while ago you wrote about a British physician who ingested worms to treat his asthma. I recently read a report about “worm therapy” for arthritis. Is this for real?
Believe it or not, the answer to your question is yes. Despite the growing sophistication of immunologic research, there are still lessons to be learned from mother nature.
Two-billion humans are infected with some form of worm. The main reason for this is poverty and a lack of adequate medical care to identify and irradiate the chronic worm infestation. Of great interest is that these two-billion people have a remarkable paucity of allergies and auto-immune conditions. In fact, it was this observation that led that British physician, who has asthma, to experiment on himself by ingesting hook worms.
As it turns out, worms produce a variety of proteins that neutralize or dampen the infected individuals’ immune system that would otherwise attach and destroy the worms.
One of the key targets of the worm proteins are immune cells called T-regs (T-regulatory cells). T-regs also are a major controlling factor for causing allergic and autoimmune diseases. Hence, the beneficial aspect for people with arthritis.
Unfortunately, as the British scientist learned, chronic worm infections have their own adverse health problems and so are not a realistic treatment option. However, immunologic scientists around the world are researching the individual worm proteins as a safe mechanism to get the desired effect.
Already, some of the proteins tested in mouse models have had dramatic healing effects for arthritis without significant side effects. Human studies are next.
The much-anticipated arrival of a vaccine for severe peanut allergy is still unfulfilled. There seem to be too many unresolved issues with the vaccines currently being tested — whether they be injectable or oral vaccines.
Safety concerns and avoidance of unwanted reactions are instrumental in this delay.
Enter nanoparticle technology. Perhaps because the amount of peanut protein used in nanoparticle vaccines is so small, there have been no severe reactions to the vaccine. Also, early studies show that the nano-vaccine provides as good protection from peanut allergy as the traditional mega-protein vaccine.
Although it’s been suspected that hard water contributes to the development of eczema in infants, the premise had never been scientifically researched until investigators at St. George’s University in Canada have now proven it is so.
Hard water (water with high calcium content) and water with higher chlorine content were both found to increase the likelihood of eczema in infants by 46%.
The investigators also found the installation of a water softener removed this increased risk.
An infection that previously was mostly seen in children, over the past 15 years has been showing up more frequently in older adults. With its extended incubation period (2-4 weeks), it is difficult to diagnose, and capable of emerging as bronchitis or pneumonia.
And it is caused by the smallest free-living organisms — Mycoplasma pneumoniae — that were originally thought to be viruses, but have been shown to be bacteria. Unlike most bacteria they lack a cell wall and are bounded by only a thin plasma membrane.
These unique properties extend to their clinical features. Hence, the individual patient can have an extended period of “feeling like they are getting sick, but not really being sure.” Then the steamroller hits, often presenting as bronchitis or pneumonia, along with symptoms in other areas: headache, muscle aches, arthritis and GI symptoms. It can also cause a very painful type of ear infection with blisters on the ear drum.
Because of its lack of a cell wall it’s very difficult to grow in a culture and can be “missed” by this test; a fairly accurate blood test exists. It may be best recognized by its slow onset with attendant non-respiratory symptoms. It does respond to a few specific antibiotics: tetracyclines, macrolides and fluoroquinolones.
The lead article in the New England Journal of Medicine last month was on a new shingles vaccine. The study involved 15,000 people over age 70 in 18 different countries.
Unlike the currently used shingles vaccine which uses a live virus, the new vaccine uses a single protein from the virus, along with an immune stimulator.
The new vaccine, which is called HZ/su (Herpes Zoster subunit) prevented shingles in 92% of the patients, and prevented the dreaded complication of shingles post-herpetic neuralgia in 88% of the patients. This compares to the prevention values of the current vaccine of 52% for shingles and 66% for neuralgia.
In addition to its better protection, it can be given to people who are immune-compromised by their illness or by chemotherapy. The current live virus vaccine cannot be used in these patients.
Disadvantages of the new vaccine are that it requires two shots given two months apart. Also, there is a high incidence (30% of recipients) of local and systemic reactions. Finally, although the vaccine looks very promising, it is not yet approved by the FDA. One issue the FDA is studying is if and when it should be given to people who have already received the currently available vaccine.
John Hopkins Epidemiologists have found that asthmatics who live in areas of the country where fracking is done have an increased incidence of hospital/ER-requiring flare-ups — that is four times greater than their counterparts not exposed to the environmental leak of natural gas.
One more reason to consider taking the yearly flu shot is a recent research study that showed receiving the flu vaccine reduced the risk for pneumonia by 50% in children and adults.