A group of scientists in New Zealand believe that asthma, severe skin allergies and food allergies may be caused by microscopic worms.
The scientists conducted a study comparing hygiene-poor countries in Asia and Africa with modern countries where hygiene is high and think they may have found the issue causing higher allergy rates in developed countries.
Benefits of early exposure
Microscopic worm exposure is key to their findings. They believe that because children in first-world countries are generally kept free of those worms from a young age, this may cause hypersensitivity at a later age.
"We've discovered there's an amazing immune response that the worms generate that makes like an allergic response, but actually makes another allergic response that calms down the body's immune system in certain organs like the gut," said Immunologist Professor Graham Le Gros of the Malaghan Institute where the study was conducted.
Researchers hope to continue investigation and get more concrete results, and will do so with a $5 million research grant just issued. They hope to go to clinical trials in the next phase after laboratory testing is completed.
Photo of fertilized Ascaris lumbricoides from the CDC