A Wormy Family Story

So my mother is from central america, Guatemala, to be precise. Her father was extremely poor growing up. One of the mythic stories in my family is that he didn’t own a pair of shoes until he was 11 years old. Being a moist, humid, tropical country with desperate poverty, Guatemala has one of the highest rates of helminth infection in latin america. I would venture to say that there is an almost 100% likelihood that mi abuelito (grandfather) was infected with intestinal worms, perhaps even with a heavy load, for at least most of his childhood and adolescence.

Even the specific helminth I’m using for UC, human whipworm, continues to be widespread in Guatemala, such as is evident from this 1996 study that found 81% of children in a rural Guatemalan town were infected with Trichuris Trichiura (human whipworm).

I can’t help but muse that I’ve happily paid $3,000 to infect myself with an organism when my grandfather couldn’t even afford a pair of shoes to ward off hookworm infection (aka ‘ground itch’), or other maladies. I wish he were alive today to hear the story.

Another interesting story. My Guatemalan aunt’s (by marriage) mother grew up in the countryside, poor, as a typical mixed-indigenous woman, cooking, carrying, mending, raising a family. Clearly she came across her fair share of parasites and other organisms. She is now in her mid-90’s, and although she suffers from terrible dementia, and is unable to communicate, her body is in impeccable shape. My uncle describes it like this; “It’s almost as if her body has taken on a life of its own, all her bodily functions are fine, no cancer, nothing wrong at all.” She did not grow up with immunizations (I’m not against them!), cans of lysol, antibacterial soap, vitamins or supplements, or western medicine in general. Granted, she also lived a life of hard work far removed from our couch-potato lifestyles of leisure.

(my grandfather, who remained very healthy and active throughout his life, eventually died in his 70’s from problems related to smoking)

On top of all this, one of the anomalies that stood in contradiction to the hygiene hypothesis was that even in the developing world there is a recent, noticeable rise in autoimmune diseases. However, to help explain this, there was a study done in the past few years that looked at autoimmune diseases in Venezuela. Like many countries in latin america, the big capital cities tend to be segregated between the slums of the poor, and the gated, exclusive communities of the rich (and usually protected with armed guards). If I remember right, the study found a huge disparity between autoimmune rates in the slums vs. the gated communities. Basically virtually no rates of autoimmune problems among the poor, while in the gated, highly hygienic communities with all the trappings of modern life, found significant rates of the whole gamut of autoimmune problems–asthma, allergies, IBD, etc.

*If anybody knows of this study, please send me a link, as this is from memory and I’m not sure it’s totally correct.

Oh, and everyone should travel to Guatemala (not to acquire parasites!) at least some point in their lives. It’s a place of stunning beauty and stark contrasts, both in the people and land.


As for my symptoms: still very good, solid bowels, once a day, still some pain when passing a BM, but not as bad as at first.


Family carrying wood down a mountain. Everyone carries what they can. One of my favorites from last trip.

Rural family. Everyone carries what they can, down the mountain. One of my favorites from last trip.

One of the many beautiful women of Guate, taken at a natural steam-bath house


One response

  1. HS

    any updates on how you’re feeling?

    September 24, 2010 at 3:40 pm

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