A HOOKWORM infection is something most people would be keen to avoid, but it may hold the key to curbing the allergy epidemic sweeping the developed world.
Research by an Australian scientist, Alex Loukas, suggests hookworms can be used to treat a range of allergies, including asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.
Like many international researchers, he has observed that people living in developing countries, who are more prone to parasitic infections, suffer fewer allergies than those in the developed world.
''Contrary to popular belief, the best parasites are the ones which cause the least damage,'' the James Cook University professor said.
''Worms are like teenagers. All they are interested in really is sex and eating. So they want to go about doing those things with as little interruption as possible.''
Research published in the medical journal The Lancet, said up to 740 million people are infected with hookworm, mostly in developing countries where sanitation is poor.
''[In developed countries] now our immune systems turn on things such as dog dander or peanuts or a whole heap of inappropriate things our bodies should be able to tolerate,'' Professor Loukas said.
His research team has discovered two molecules in the hookworm equivalent of saliva have potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Professor Loukas presented his findings at James Cook University last month and hopes to begin clinical trials with humans in the next few years.