This brings us back to the experiment awaiting me. I pull off the highway into a Parking lot surrounded by eucalyptus trees, where I’m to meet my hookworm donor, a man named Garin Aglietti who once dropped out of medical school. We are surrounded by outlets of major American brands (Marshalls, Nike, Levi’s, McDonald’s), resembling large warehouses. I approach a group of middle-aged, pitiful-looking people waiting under a canopy. There’s a bus passing through that will take them across the border. Most likely, these are Americans who travel to Mexico every day to buy cheap drugs.
Aglietti arrives in a beige Jeep Cherokee with Nevada plates. He’s wearing baggy jeans, a blue shirt, and large silver-rimmed sunglasses. In short, the story of Aglietti is as follows. In the 90s, he developed psoriasis — an autoimmune skin disease. He also suffered from asthma for most of his life. Aglietti was most concerned about the diseases that usually accompany psoriasis — cardiovascular disease and autoimmune arthritis. Too frequent chest pains bothered him. “I felt like it was killing me,” Aglietti told me. — I was too young to experience such pain in my chest.”
Allopathic medicine (also known as modern medicine) did not offer much to treat these diseases. In the early 2000s, Aglietti heard about a Japanese scientist named Koichiro Fujita. Working on the island of Borneo in the 90s (at a time when Japanese children increased predisposition to the development of atopic dermatitis), Fujita drew attention to the fact that the children living on this island have excellent skin and no allergic diseases. On the other hand, they had a lot of parasites. Is there any connection between these two factors?
Back in Tokyo, Fujita took the extraordinary step of infecting himself with a tapeworm. As a result, he lost hay fever, and his skin became cleaner and not as spotty as before. Fujita began to promote the idea that the modern world is too clean and it does not go to our benefit. Corporate sponsors started to refuse his laboratory support.
Aglietti decided to follow Fujita’s example. Tapeworms have intermediate and final hosts. In the body of the intermediate host, they form a cyst, and in the body of the final host live as intestinal helminths. In 2005, Aglietti went to Kenya, where he toured various slaughterhouses in search of tapeworm cysts. He eventually found two cysts and swallowed them. Soon after, the psoriasis plaques on Aglietti’s body softened, and after a few months, they almost completely disappeared. However, in the period of maturation of a tapeworm begins to secrete a rather large, partially moving independently sacs with eggs — proglottide. They slip through the man’s anus and down his legs in search of an intermediate host.
When proglottide began their movement, Aglietti felt as if his feet sweat, with no discernible heat. “It’s a disgusting feeling in a psychological sense,” Aglietti says. “I just couldn’t handle it.” He stopped the experiment by taking anti-worm pills. After the release of the tapeworm almost one meter Aglietti went in search of another parasite that does not create such psychological problems. This time he stopped at the hookworm. Now Aglietti sells her wish in Tijuana.
Driving down the highway toward Mexico, Aglietti gently questions me about why, with my apparently extensive knowledge of parasites, I didn’t go to some developing country (as he did) to get parasites in a natural way. I answer that I simply do not have time for this. But as we pass through the turnstile into the walled-in narrow zone (the neutral strip separating the two countries), I ask myself the same question.
No doctor or scientist I met recommended going to Tijuana for ankylostoma. Not only is this approach entirely outside of science-based methods; people like Aglietti who offer this service (there are two organizations of this kind at the time of writing ) do so outside of scientific and medical institutions. There are no quality standards, except for the rules that these people follow of their own free will. At the same low level is the responsibility, in case something goes wrong.
So there’s a strong case against what I’m going to do. Disease and death are the most obvious. What worries me most, however, is that my actions may encourage Aglietti (who seems like a very nice person) and others like him. I’m not sure these people deserve more attention than they’ve already received. On the other hand, samsarajade ankylostomas turned into a kind of a clandestine way in which many hopelessly ill people the opportunity to receive innovative treatment. I want to understand what these people are going through and how it works.
In this regard, it is necessary to mention the arguments for: I have heard fantastic stories about cases of remission from people who have already passed this way. Some of these cases I can confirm, many others-no. Nevertheless, there is nothing better than to see with your own eyes the solution of such issues. There are also many other potential benefits: no more worrying about peanuts, no more wheezing, no more hay fever, no more swollen eyes when a cat jumps on its knees. If I had hair on my head, it would be an added bonus. But most importantly, the success of this experiment would point the way to the “Holy Grail” of prevention — not for me, but for my children.
We pass through another revolving door (oddly reminiscent of the floor-to-ceiling turnstiles in the new York subway, which are impossible to jump) and suddenly find ourselves in Mexico in a small square with a fountain. There are no shops of American retail chains, only local shops with colorful signs. A friendly young man with thick black eyebrows and gel-treated hair combed into spikes pulls up in a car. He’s taking us to an area near the ocean. We stop at a building with a Mexican flag hanging from a second-floor balcony. The building has a plaque with the inscription Unidad de medicina holística – ” Cabinet of holistic medicine.”
While Aglietti communicates with physicians at the top, our driver Andres (doctor’s son) says that he was twenty years old and he just started medical school. Andres adds that a few years ago he had to stop playing sports because of asthma, which he suffers all his life. A few years ago, Andres infected himself with hookworm and now feels much better. He started playing football again.
Aglietti comes back and tells me the doctor is ready. I follow him into a clean, spacious office on the second floor. On the back of the chair hangs a t-shirt with the words Say hello to my little friends (“say Hello to my little friends”) above the image of an open oral capsule of hookworm — four flat teeth at the top and barely noticeable dents where the eyes should be. Four teeth say that this is Ancylostoma duodenum (Ancylostoma duodenale), which is generally considered more pathogenic than necator American (Necator americanus), is what I should get. Necator only two teeth more square shapes that look somehow not so ominous.
Dr. Jorge Llamas walks into the office, dressed in black pants, a jacket, and worn black loafers. People who have come this way have spoken of him with genuine sympathy, and I understand why: he is good-natured and friendly, it is reassuring and encouraging.
“We are cut off from nature,” Dr. Llamas tells me. “And it hurts us.” He tells the story of an American woman who lived in Acapulco for a while and then returned to the United States to find herself infected with parasites. After removing the parasites, she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Dr. Llamas also mentions that when he lived in Guadalajara as a child, his father often took him to the beach, where clouds of mosquitoes drank his blood. “It strengthened my immune system,” the doctor says. He’s never been allergic. Dr. Llamas opposes the modern obsession with cleanliness. He argues that all mindlessly follow the example of the United States, while receiving common diseases in the United States. “We need to stop and think.”
Doctor medical holistic Llamas finishes rant and goes to my medical history. Do you Wake up at night? (Yeah.) How many times and what happens in such cases? (I fall asleep again.) Just fall asleep? (Yeah.) How often do you exercise? (Three times a week.) What religion do you practice? (What.)
“You must lead a solitary life,” Dr. Llamas says, and notes something on my chart. He begins to talk about “known” emotional States associated with asthma and alopecia, such as stress and depression, respectively. “We create our own reality,” the doctor says at one point. — We are creating this reality right now.”
As I dive into what I am absolutely certain is pseudoscience, I become more and more confused. I came here to get parasites, and that in itself is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. However, this experiment is intended to study what I consider to be the universal principles of systems biology — relationships that have been formed over unimaginably long periods of coevolution. My experiment is not a trick. I’m trying to get the conversation back on track, and I’m asking the doctor to give me Aglietti’s blood test results. I have not been able to find any evidence that hookworms can carry viruses from person to person, but they are born as eggs in the excrement of one person, and after turning into larvae and penetrating the skin, they go directly into the bloodstream of another person. The precautionary principle is appropriate in such circumstances.
Soon we look at the results of tests for a year or two. I am convinced that Aglietti not the worst viruses (such as HIV, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis) and intestinal ugritsy (Strongyloides stercoralis) — nasty, the only soil-borne helminth that can replicate in the host organism. I’m as satisfied as I can be.
“Are you worried?” — asks Llamas.
— Do I look worried?”
We move into a room at the back of the building. Aglietti dressed in a light gown with the inscription the Worm Terapy (the”Helminthomorpha”) embroidered on the right side in the chest area. He smiles and looks excited. Dr. Llamas pipettes water from a beaker, which presumably contains hookworm larvae, and squeezes the liquid onto an absorbent bandage. Aglietti and Llamas recommended that I administer thirty helminths, not twenty or twenty-five, as I had supposed.
They’re putting a bandage on me. A minute later I have a sensation of tickling, itching, almost burning — as if I have been slightly burned by nettles. It’s microscopic maggots bursting through my skin. When no one knew what the parasite caused, this characteristic itch earned notoriety around the world, receiving names such as “earth itch,” “miner’s itch,” “water pox,” and the more poetic “poisonous dew.” Today, scientists know that hookworm larvae leave their outer shell in the human skin, dropping it like a sock. The immune system has stiff resistance, but the naked larvae are long gone.
Each larva will find one of the capillaries and ride along with the flow of my venous blood, like a rafter on the river. The larvae will pass through the deafening roaring pump of my heart, which causes me no small concern. And when they get to the capillaries of the lungs, they immediately move from the circulatory system in resembling bunches of grapes alveoli. Then, following the coordinated sliding movements of the hair-like cilia (the so-called mucociliary escalator), the larvae will move up and down the pharynx (where there is a branching of the trachea and esophagus) and enter the esophagus.
Hookworm larvae miraculously survive in the hydrochloric acid of the stomach and finally (after wandering through my body for several weeks) get to the destination — the small intestine. They will infiltrate the intestinal wall, where they will Mature. The largest of them will reach a centimeter in length. Females will lay about 10,000 microscopic eggs daily, extracting about 0.04 milliliters of blood per day from intestinal tissues. Assuming all the larvae survive, that’s eight drops of blood for every ten helminths, or twenty-four drops that I’ll have to pay to become the master of a colony of thirty parasites — not much, but it’s still no small thing. The lifespan of a hookworm sometimes more than five years. Eggs that need to be in tropical conditions for a week or two to turn into larvae will come out with the feces — in new York, this means they will end up in a wastewater treatment plant.
According to Aglietti, I may have a slight cough in about a week. In such cases, flu symptoms often appear. Then I can feel “epigastric pain” when the helminths invade the intestinal walls. If I start coughing, I shouldn’t spit out the discharge. “Swallow them —” he tells me. “It’s your medicine.”
Then Aglietti, who has been glancing at his watch from time to time since I was bandaged, says, “Okay, the possibility of anaphylactic shock is in the past.” He’s talking about a potentially fatal allergic reaction that’s usually associated with bee stings or, these days, peanuts. Anaphylactic shock is eliminated by an injection of adrenaline, which he has at hand. Dr. Llamas hands me a package containing three tablets of mebendazole, an anthelmintic. “This is your opportunity to stop everything —” he says. “We take two pills here in Mexico. But Americans, being Americans, take three.”
By this time I have a headache. I am filled with discontent, hope and awe. Dissatisfaction with myself for having decided on this experiment; hope that it will bring at least some benefit; and awe of the biology of parasites, their ability to penetrate the skin, move through the circulatory system and settle in my small intestine (which will happen in the coming weeks). At the heart of all these feelings is a newly acquired quasi — religious belief in evolution-the belief that the organism knows what it is doing and will not kill me. After all, for an obligate parasite, a dead host is useless. For better or worse, we’re in this together.