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Immune Roundup

May 22, 2009

Paradoxically, having parasites could protect people from developing autoimmune diseases.


Some helpful parasites. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Parasites protect themselves with chemicals that tamp down their host’s immune system. Could this be why people living in developed countries, free of parasites, are more prone to diseases like asthma, eczema, and MS—all caused by an overactive immune system? Research at the University of Nottingham supports this theory with the finding that mice infected with lice had calm immune systems, while those without lice had an elevated immune response that could cause disease. This doesn’t mean that we all need to acquire parasites, but that we need to consider their effects when we study these illnesses.

In related news, doctors report in the journal Pediatrics that a 10 minute bath with a very mild bleach solution—just four ounces per bath—can relieve the itching caused by eczema, presumably by killing bacteria that trigger it. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.