Parasitic hairworms brainwash grasshoppers into committing suicide, and flatworms drive cockles to the surface in shallow waters off New Zealand, where they are eaten by birds called oystercatchers. Fluke worms cause cancer. Earthworms may spread ragweed, and dogs get heartworm from mosquitoes. Dieters in Hong Kong were recently warned to quit swallowing the eggs of parasitic Ascaris worms, which grow up to 15 inches in length and lay up to 200,000 eggs a day inside the body. Doctors said the only healthy way to lose weight is through diet and exercise.
- More than one-third of the world’s population is host toparasitic worms, of which there are more than 300 species. An estimated 300 million people – half of them school-age children – are severely ill because of worms. Schistosomiasis (caused by a parasitic flatworm that lives in water) kills 200,000 people in Africa every year. In 2011, the number of cases of guinea worm disease dropped to 1,058 – with 1,028 of them in South Sudan.
- It costs less than US$0.50 per year per child to treat both schistosomiasis and common intestinal worms. The cost of albendazole3, one of four drugs recommended for common intestinal worms, plummeted from $0.20 to $0.02 within three years. Experts suggest treating whole groups of people, infected and uninfected, because diagnosis costs 4 to 10 times as much as the treatment itself.
- Dried marine worms are the secret ingredient in Vietnamese pho, and huhu grubs are a delicacy for the Maori people of New Zealand. The agave worm in bottles of mescal is a marketing gimmick introduced by a Mexico City entrepreneur in 1950. Worms are 70 percent protein, with no gristle or bones. Insects and worms are eaten in almost 90 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Scientists gathered in 2008 to discuss using worms and bugs to combat world hunger.
- Earthworms move 20 tons of earth per acre each year. Healthy fields contain more than 100 worms per square yard. A young robin eats as much as 14 feet of earthworms daily, and grizzly bears love them. There are more than 7,000 species of earthworms, the largest of which was found in South Africa and measured 22 feet. Non-native earthworms are invading forests in the northern United States, causing the loss of tree seedlings, wildflowers, and ferns. Earthworm burrows cause lumpy lawns.
- Trials are underway to assess the benefits of hookworms and the eggs of pig whipworms for treating multiple sclerosis. Worms may be a treatment for lung disease. Researchers suspect the lack of exposure to parasitic intestinal worms in developed countries is causing an increase in immunological conditions like hay fever, asthma, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.