Hookworms are nasty parasitic nematodes, which larva infect humans through our skin, then travel to the lungs via the bloodstream and enter our airways. The hookworm larva are subsequently swallowed and made their way to the small intestines. There, the parasites grow up to be worms half an inch long and live for years, while causing abdominal discomfort and other nasty symptoms like anemia in some people.
So, why would anyone in their right mind want to get infected - on purpose - with hookworms?
Meet science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff. He explains the benefits of being infected with parasites in this intriguing interview with Wired's Brandon Keim:
According to Velasquez-Manoff and the scientists he writes about, it’s no coincidence. A fast-growing body of research suggests that immune systems, produced by millions of years of evolution in a microbe-rich world, rely on certain exposures to calibrate themselves. Disrupt those exposures, as we have through modern medicine, food and lifestyle, and things go haywire.
Velasquez-Manoff, who has several immune-related disorders, including food allergies and alopecia, had heard about the “hookworm underground” — people who infect themselves with parasites in the hopes of restoring immune balance. Though it’s something he now recommends against doing, it marked the beginning of a reportorial journey into a frontier of science and health.