In many parts of the world, pinworms are usually considered a bad thing.
Pinworms, the most common worm infection in the United States, work their way into the small intestine, causing such complications as pelvic inflammatory disease, vaginitis, and recurring infections. Usually found in schoolchildren, pinworms are considered contagious and difficult to eradicate.
However, for some Crohn’s disease sufferers, pinworms have actually provided a health benefit. Yes, strange as it sounds, some patients are talking about the possibility of using this nuisance as actual treatment for Crohn’s, a condition that causes inflammation in the intestines.
While pinworms are common in other parts of the world, they’re uncommon in the United States, where they’re usually eradicated at first sighting. Researchers have noted that in less developed areas where pinworms are more common, cases of Crohn’s Disease are far rarer, which leads them to research if there’s a connection.
Research into Pinworms
Pinworms, which fall under the classification of helminthes, were part of a 24-week study at the University of Iowa. It was found that these pinworms seemed to suppress the body’s immune response, which cut back on inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
Is this a case of the remedy being worse than the disease? Possibly. But in discovering that pinworms can cut back on Crohn’s disease symptoms, researchers can begin to develop other, less intrusive ways of treating Crohn’s. Still, would patients willingly agree to be infected with pinworms on a regular basis?
Risk of Spreading?
Pinworms can cause a wide variety of uncomfortable symptoms and are highly contagious. As parents and teachers know all too well, many children catch pinworms from coming into contact with the parasites while playing in dirt or sandboxes. Pinworms can then get beneath fingernails and are transferred to the body as soon fingers are put into mouths.
One problem with deliberately injecting Crohn’s patients with pinworms is the risk of spreading those pinworms, especially to other children. Another consideration is that pinworms can cause pelvic infection, leading to pelvic inflammatory disease.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease, which occurs when bacteria moves from the vagina into a woman's reproductive organs, can not only be painful but can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive organs if left untreated. Scar tissue can build up in the fallopian tubes, preventing sperm from getting to the egg. This can cause fertility problems, making pinworm treatment a difficult option for Crohn’s sufferers still within their reproductive years.
But infertility isn’t the only risk with pelvic inflammatory disease caused by pinworms. The scarring that can be caused by pelvic inflammatory disease can lead to chronic pelvic pain, which can cause permanent discomfort and pain and make pinworms a bad option even in women no longer concerned with fertility.
Vaginitis can cause chronic discomfort in its sufferers. The condition includes yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis, with symptoms that include itching, irritation, or abnormal discharge. While it won’t provide permanent damage, it can be uncomfortable for women dealing with it on a regular basis.
In general, patients dealing with pinworms deal with persistent itching, especially around the anus. If the patient scratches persistently, the skin can become infected, leading to additional problems.
The fact that patients are willing to be treated with pinworms shows how desperate many Crohn’s sufferers are, researchers say. Crohn’s disease causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, and even rectal bleeding. Patients with severe cases of Crohn’s can have as many as twenty bowel movements per day, with danger of a blockage that causes hemorrhaging or gastrointestinal perforation. More severe Crohn’s sufferers may be willing to deal with possible symptoms from pinworms if it means going into remission. Current treatment options have limited success in some patients, with dangerous side effects making them even less appealing than the risk of an itchy pelvic area.
Researchers say that the worms wouldn’t cause a public health risk because the eggs would be shed in the patient’s stool. Because pinworms require several weeks of incubating in soil, the risk of these pinworms spreading to someone else are lessened. However, since Crohn’s disease patients tend to have leaky bowels, the fact that pinworm eggs would reside in patients’ stools is of concern to some researchers and more studies will likely need to be done. Still, whether or not Crohn’s patients would be willing to go to the lengths of being injected with pinworms remains a question.