My allergies have been so bad recently that I think I might actually consider something like this...
From the New York Times:
While carrying out field work in Papua New Guinea in the late 1980s, he [David Pritchard] noticed that Papuans infected with the Necator americanus hookworm, a parasite that lives in the human gut, did not suffer much from an assortment of autoimmune-related illnesses, including hay fever and asthma. Over the years, Dr. Pritchard has developed a theory to explain the phenomenon.
“The allergic response evolved to help expel parasites, and we think the worms have found a way of switching off the immune system in order to survive,” he said. “That’s why infected people have fewer allergic symptoms.”...
...Nearly 20 years later, his musing began to come to fruition. After Dr. Pritchard’s self-infection experiment, the National Health Services ethics committee let him conduct a study in 2006 with 30 participants, 15 of whom received 10 hookworms each. Tests showed that after six weeks, the T-cells of the 15 worm recipients began to produce lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammatory response, indicating that their immune systems were more suppressed than those of the 15 placebo recipients. Despite playing host to small numbers of parasites, worm recipients reported little discomfort.
Trial participants raved about their allergy symptoms disappearing. Word about the study soon appeared online among chronic allergy sufferers, and a Yahoo group on “helminthic therapy” sprung up.
“Many of the people who were given a placebo have requested worms, and many of the people with worms have elected to keep them,” Dr. Pritchard said.
Now he is recruiting patients for a larger-scale trial of the therapy, and he said he hoped to publish his results within the next year.
Some allergy sufferers cannot wait. The moderator of the Yahoo group, Jasper Lawrence, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has started a clinic in Mexico, to offer the unproven therapy (a basic worm “inoculation” costs $3,900). ...
...“I [Pritchard ] gave myself 50 worms, and I felt it,” he recounted. “I had stomach pains and diarrhea. But with 10 worms, we’ve ascertained a dose that does not cause symptoms. The patients are happy. They’ve kept their worms, and I get an e-mail a day from people all over the world who want to be infected.”
Thanks to Heather for pointing this one out