German Doctors May Soon Prescribe Parasite Eggs

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iStock

People all over the world have started swallowing worms, and not because anybody dared them to do it. Now, according to Discover magazine, Germany may become one of the first countries to legalize this controversial treatment.

It’s called helminthic therapy: an intentional parasite infection that (theoretically) suppresses an overactive immune system.

For reasons scientists don’t fully understand, autoimmune and inflammatory conditions like asthma, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease are on the rise. Yet despite their prevalence, treatment options for some of these conditions are slim. After years of illness, many people reach a point where they’re willing to try anything; one study estimates that more than 7000 people have purchased parasites online to try at home.

Trials of the treatment have had mixed results. Some studies found that helminthic therapy may help people with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis. Its efficacy in other conditions, like allergies, is less clear.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified helminthic therapy as an Investigational New Drug (IND). This means it can only legally be used by researchers in clinical trials. But just across the border in Mexico, there are providers and clinics specializing in the parasite treatment. Thailand has legalized helminthic therapy, too. Elsewhere, would-be consumers are out of luck.

That may soon change, as Germany’s Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety is currently considering allowing the use of a parasite called Trichuris suis. If the certification is approved [PDF], a liquid containing the worm’s eggs will be certified as a food ingredient. This particular species ordinarily infects pigs, and is short-lived in humans, a fact that proponents say should reduce or eliminate the risk of side effects.

Even if the government says helminthic therapy is safe, experts recommend using it like any other drug—that is, with medical supervision.

“Self-medication with any type of worm is not recommended,” Helena Helmby of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told New Scientist, “and it is important to remember they’re not in any way completely harmless, and may cause quite severe side effects if not monitored very carefully by a doctor.”

[h/t Discover]

The (Likely) Reason Men Don't Live as Long as Women

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iStock/fstop123

Owing to long-held habits like drinking, smoking, and warring, men have traditionally come up short when it comes to life expectancy. In 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics released data indicating women in the U.S. could expect to live an average of 81.1 years. Men, 76.1. That's a full five fewer years of enjoying this mortal coil. To pose a scientific question—what gives?

In an essay penned for Nautilus, Richard G. Bribiescas, a professor of anthropology, ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, believes that the answer rests outside of the male gender making poor life choices. Biologically, men may look forward to curtailed lifespans because of the hormone testosterone.

Bribiescas argues that, while testosterone provides beneficial boosts in libido, mood, and aggression—all key, in some measure, to both survival and reproduction—there is a biological price paid for the markedly higher levels seen in men than women. Testosterone can affect the body's immunological response, suppressing the immune system and making men more susceptible to illness. The hormone has also been associated with increased cancer risk, including prostate cancer.

Evolution seems to have put up with testosterone because of its impact on reproduction, which is why the male body hasn't come up with a way to dismiss the hormone. But men might not be losing years for much longer. A statistical analysis by Cass Business School in the UK forecasts men and women may both live an average of 87.5 years by 2032. Longevity may improve as a result of less alcohol consumption and smoking, as well as better treatments for heart disease. But that's simply a prediction. It may be that testosterone will continue to be an inherent risk factor for males, one that no lifestyle changes can outpace.

[h/t Nautilus]

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

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iStock.com/Techin24

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

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