One advantage of pig whipworms is that they don't cause disease in humans. Weinstock emphasizes that this parasite doesn't migrate outside your gut, can't reproduce in humans and dies off after two months. People who have pig whipworms can't spread them to others, and there are several medications that can be used to rid the body of whipworms, Weinstock said.
According to Weinstock, there have been no major side effects or complications of pig whipworm treatment reported in studies on Crohn's patients. One study on whipworm treatment in those with hayfever documented mild side effects (gas, diarrhea and cramping) that were usually resolved after two weeks. According to Dr. P'ng Loke, an assistant professor in the department of microbiology at New York University, citing the studies available so far, "pig whipworms look to be extremely safe for the time being."
Worm Cocktails – Don't Try This Alone
Stories of other patients with autoimmune diseases, like Smith, who are deliberately infecting themselves with worms have surfaced. Dr. Weinstock cautions that patients shouldn't treat themselves with worms. He encourages Crohn's patients to remain on standard, proven treatments and to talk to their physicians.
Smith noted that he kept his physician informed about his parasite experiments. One reason, he said, is that "I didn't want him to do a colonoscopy and be horrified." Smith has posted endoscopic photos of his intestinal worms on his Facebook page.
For patients who want to explore whipworm therapy, Weinstock encourages patients to talk to their doctors about enrolling in clinical studies. Other pig whipworm clinical trials are planned or under way for more autoimmune diseases, including; ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease), multiple sclerosis (an autoimmune disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord), psoriasis (an autoimmune skin disorder) and rype 1 diabetes.
Smith has declined to participate.
"In clinical trials, you don't know what you're taking because you have a 50 percent chance of being in the placebo group," he said.
After quitting the pig whipworm treatment, Smith started using human parasitic worms he obtains from outside of the United States -- a move that would almost certainly be frowned upon by the medical community at large, as these types of parasites can harm people. This practice is legal as long as he does it in the privacy of his own home, said a Food and Drug Administration spokesperson.
Heather Gelabert, a 32 year-old Florida homemaker, was forced to drop out of college because her Crohn's disease proved so difficult to treat. She was initially taken aback when her physician described pig whipworm treatment but after a long discussion, she decided to enroll in a clinical trial.
For Gelabert, the promise of this upcoming clinical trial for Crohn's patients brings new optimism. "I am excited and very hopeful," she said with enthusiasm. "I'd like to start now!"