Today, gut worms infect more than 24% of the world’s population; 135,000 cases of death from said disease are reported annually.
Despite nationwide de-worming efforts being discontinued in 1983, Malaysia’s gut worm infection remains largely controlled
On 15 April 2018, Professor Dr Yvonne Lim Ai Lian FASc shared these facts and many more through her ASM Fellows’ Lecture and Inaugural Lecture titled “Debunking the Myth About Gut Worms by Unlocking the Secrets of Gut Microbiota”.
Held at the Faculty of Medicine of Universiti Malaya (UM), Professor Yvonne brought us on a journey of discovery to unlock the secrets of gut worms and gut microbiota.
She introduced the audience to the common intestinal worms that could infect humans, health issues that may arise from the parasitic infection of said worms, as well as brought out the “bright” side of intestinal worms by describing the potential benefits of intestinal worms.
According to Professor Yvonne, the four common species of worms to infect humans are the roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), whipworm (Trichiuris trichiura), hookworm (Ancyclostoma duodenale) and another species of hookworm (Necator americanus).
Professor Yvonne explained that these worms are able to infect the human body in two ways: oral ingestion of eggs via contaminated food, water or hands, as well as skin penetration by larvae. The worms will then deposit itself in the human body in the intestines, or even in tissues of other organs.
In Malaysia, Professor Yvonne stated that disadvantaged communities, particularly the indigenous people of Malaysia (Orang Asli) are most susceptible to gut worm infections. Her extensive research and cooperation with various organisations have led to many programmes to educate the Orang Asli to curb gut worm infections across their communities.
Aside from the problems associated with gut worm infections, Professor Yvonne also shed light on the potential benefits of the gut worms towards the health of its host.
Gut worms need its host to survive as they depend on the latter for nutrients and a conducive living condition. Therefore, it ensures its own survival by developing mechanisms to suppress the severity of diseases of the host.
Professor Yvonne cited multiple studies that showed the protective effects of gut worms such as: reduced allergy-related diseases; multiple sclerosis; rheumatoid arthirits; inflammatory bowel disease; and diabetes.
A study has also shown that the colonisation of a type of gut worm called Helminth was associated with the increase of gut microbiota.
In essence, a synergistic effect was found between the prevalence of gut worms with increased gut microbiota and improved immune system.
However, this does not mean that one needs to have gut worms in order to be healthy – a healthy body can be achieved in other beneficial and less parasitic ways, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Dr Yvonne’s take home message was to continue efforts to de-worm the Orang Asli community. Worm infections may be hard to eradicate, but it is important to reduce worm burden so that the Orang Asli benefit from the positive effects of low doses.
You may download Professor Yvonne’s presentation slides here.