You've probably heard the body described as a temple, but ever thought of it as a hotel? For billions of people around the world it's just that, playing host to a wide range of parasites and other creepy crawlers that call your gut home. The scariest part? Most people don't even know they're infected!

Tapeworms, round worms, and pinworms live off of your resources. They hook, slither, and dive into tiny vessels and crevices, boldly but undetectably traversing their way through your body. Then, when they want out, any opening will do!

On Wednesday's show, we'll see those three major parasites and visit the unbelievable places where you might pick them up. (Let's just say you'll never look at your grocery store in the same way again.) You'll also meet biologist Dr. Mike Leahy, who actually infected himself with a tapeworm just to see what it would be like!

As we put this show together, I became fascinated by the strategies these parasites use to spread. Pinworms, for example, live in your intestines by day, but each night they go on a mission. As you sleep, they crawl out of your anus and lay eggs on your skin. At the same time they release chemicals that irritate your skin and cause it to itch. As you reach down to scratch, your fingers get coated in eggs, which rapidly spreads the infection around your home or office. Young children get the worst pinworm infections, as almost any parent knows, because they frequently put their fingers in their own mouths, delivering the eggs directly to their target.

I was also amazed to learn that parasites can offer some benefits to humans. For example, early infections with parasites decreases your risk of allergy or autoimmune disease, probably because the parasites keep your immune system occupied. If you live in an environment that is too sterile, your immune system gets bored and starts attacking harmless objects (like pollen or shrimp) or even your own body. Doctors think this may be one of the big reasons allergies and autoimmune diseases have become so much more common in the modern, more hygenic era.

So who wants to have a parasite? Despite their potential advantages, probably no one. That's why our show will focus on the major prevention tips you can use to stay safe. Be sure not to miss it!


Added to Family Health, Disease on Tue 02/02/2010