Radiolab

Navigate
Return Home

Sculptors of Monumental Narrative

Back to Episode

Dickson Despommier tells us the story of how the insatiable millionaire John D. Rockefeller turned an eye to the untapped market of the American South and ended up eradicating the hookworm (and, in the process, a number of other awful afflictions) with an ingenious contraption. Then Pat Walters introduces us to Jasper Lawrence, a modern-day entrepreneur whose passion for hookworms stems from lifelong battles with allergies and asthma. But unlike Rockefeller, Jasper sees this parasite as friend, not foe.

Comments [38]

The guy is wondering why his hookworm business is not booming?
Well one of the reason is the price of a hookworm. I went on his website and he sells one hookworm for $3000. I mean come on. If I am very allergic and I need 5 of those little guys, that's a $15000 investment. That's a lot of money don't you think?
Luckily I'm not allergic. I might have some hookworms in me :)

Dec. 05 2014 07:17 PM
jose UCS EASTBAY from california

When i lived in mexico as a child I had hook worms all the time. Once in a while i would the stomach pains and so my mother would give me Strong teas, or raw garlic to flush them out. They occurred in kids mainly because kids would go out and play and didnt or could not get to the toilet fast enough. Personaly i never used shoes when i played outside since they where only for shcool and church. If i can remember right my stool some times had the worms but never really caused me chronich pain or discomfort. This being said I NEVER HAD ALLERGIES in mexico. WHen i came to the states i developed severy allergies 2 years later with asthma. Its been getting better but it makes me woudner if the worms where helping me when i had them.

Oct. 20 2014 07:50 PM
Adrienne P from Texas, USA

Thank you for the interview on Radiolab and all information provided on your site. I have forwarded everything to my brother who has suffered from Crohn's Disease his entire life.

Oct. 13 2014 08:44 AM
Jami from Nor Cal

You know you have an incurable autoimmune disease when you think, "I wonder how much that costs," rather than "EW, eating someone else's purified poop! What is wrong with people?"

Oct. 12 2014 04:29 PM
Brad Vietje from Vermont


Regardless of the who, when where and why of outhouses, they are an awful way to deal with human excrement and urine, even if they do decrease hookworm infections. Burying human "wastes" 6 feet deep is a tragic misunderstanding of how to deal with these and other organisms.

Your guest "experts" and listeners should learn about thermophilic composting as a way to kill pathogens and at the same time build healthy soil by capturing the nutrients so many millions just flush away out of sight, to become a treatment problem elsewhere.

I strongly recommend everyone interested read "The Humanure Handbook", by Joseph Jenkins, and learn all about handling parasites and capturing nutrients in human excreta -- human manure, or "humanure".

Not all composting schemes are good for the treatment of human "wastes". The key is a thermophilic process that reaches sustained temperatures sufficient to kill the pathogens, spores, and bacteria, while breaking down the organic matter to produce useful compost to help build soil quality. Many pharmaceuticals are also broken down, but keeping medicines out of the composting process is a better idea.

Oct. 11 2014 02:54 PM
James

I didn't enjoy listening to this. You should have let Dickson's story run uninterrupted, he's a great speaker.

Mar. 05 2014 01:37 PM
Rachel

Absolutely need to know what song is playing at the end of Hookworm segment - the one with the humming at 45:56. It's been stuck in my head ever since I first listened to this episode!

Jan. 20 2014 03:02 PM
Concesa Stapp from Henderson, NV

Have there been any new developments in the research on hook worms and its' beneficial effects primarily for people with MS? If you know of any other websites where this research may be found, would you be so kind as to provide me with such information. Thank you for your time and efforts and I do appreciate your "opening minds" to new, although bizarre, positive medical advances from such research. Hope to hear from you soon. Again, thank you in advance for your time and efforts.

Aug. 05 2013 01:41 AM
Mike Ernst from Colorado

One thing that got me excited on the broadcast, which turns out not to be true... I thought I heard "hookworms delivered to your door". This is not true, if one lives in the USA. They can only be delivered in a foreign country, according to Jasper's website, autoimmunetherapies.com. That's what stops me from buying to treat my MS.

Jul. 20 2013 05:13 PM
Michele

If you think Hookworms are amazing that they can cure bowel disorders check this out:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/01/fecal-clinical-trial/

Sadly, the Powers That Be always screw things up

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/12/fecal-transplants-work/

and

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/05/fecal-transplants-fda/

Passing this on because my Mother suffered for years with Ulcerative Colitis and I had a friend die of complications from Crohn's Disease.

Jul. 19 2013 07:45 PM
Pax from New Orleans, LA

I recently got RID of hookworms, which I'd apparently had for years, but it's much more complicated than just that. According to the comprehensive stool analysis tests I had done, I not only had hookworms, but some form of yeast/fungus (they were unable to grow a culture of it, but could tell what is was in general) had also been growing in my gut for a VERY long time. The evidence of the long period of infestation for both of these NOT HELPFUL invaders was the traumatized state of my HELPFUL gut flora, and the complete absence of Butyric Acid in my stool.

Butyric acid is what the cells lining the human colon use to regenerate. It is found in butter, cheese, and to a less extent in just plain milk. It is also obtained by the action of HELPFUL bacteria that reside in the gut, upon fiber. Since the yeast and hookworms had spent years fighting each other and everything else in my gut, I had barely any helpful bacteria left -- just two strains were present in near-normal amounts. Also, the sigA levels in my gut were so low, it was an indicator of my gut-based immune system having given up, completely, out of exhaustion. And yes, the reason I got these tests done was because of an increasing level of allergy, including asthma attacks, as well as migraines and chronic exhaustion.

The reason for the allergies was the the trauma to my gut flora from a yeast invasion, which was kept in check for a brief time and then exacerbated by the hookworms, which we postulate I had for about five years. In the end, however, the combination of the two were extremely detrimental to my health. This man who is sending his hookworms out into the world as a cure-all has incomplete knowledge. Instead of infesting themselves with hookworms, these people should get a comprehensive stool analysis from a good lab, rather than go blindly into uneducated gut warfare. I used Metametrix Lab, and can recommend the sensitivity and thoroughness of their testing and analysis.

Radio Lab, it is time to research this more thoroughly.

Aug. 20 2012 10:00 PM

i was surprised to find no additional information regarding hookworm therapy on radiolab's site, so i googled it. apparently hookworms have gotten the attention of the MS society, because they are funding clinical trial in england

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-02/uon-rso022912.php

the trials began february of 2012.

as usual, the europeans are way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to - well when it comes to just about anything. it will no doubt be years, if ever, before we see similar trials in this country. As someone with a particularly nasty flavor of autoimmune neuromuscular disease, this is disheartening. However, after looking at mr. lawrence's website, i think i am convinced enough of the safety and efficacy of hookworm (helminth) therapy, that i am going to try it. i had looked into this a while back (2 yrs?) and at that time he was prohibited from shipping hookworms into the US. i'm hoping that's no longer the case.

i encourage anyone else who's interested to visit mr. lawrence's blog

http://www.jasper-lawrence.com/

for those of us with otherwise untreatable and incurable illnesses of the autoimmune variety, this sounds as though it is definitely worth a try. It appears to be affordable, simple, and safe.

thanks, radiolab, for sharing this information with your listeners.

Aug. 18 2012 08:33 PM
Keith Forry from Virginia

In your discussion on hookworm, you ignored the true hero. Dr. Charles Wardell Stiles, who spent decades trying to convince people about the problem, including being derided in the press as the discoverer of the "Germ of Laziness". I refer you to Vol. 3 of "Our Times", by Mark Sullivan, pages 290 to 332. The story is even more interesting than was protrayed on your show.
I do enjoy your show very much and thank you for your efforts.
Keith Forry

Aug. 18 2012 04:50 PM
Andrew from CA

Any word on effect on diabetics?

Dec. 08 2011 11:11 PM
Emily from Cambridge, MA

I just got a kick out of the fact that this particular story was tagged as "gut-wrenching."

Aug. 12 2011 03:12 PM
freya from tasmania, australia

hygiene has clearly been beneficial in many ways, however, It is also the case that it is causing decease for the developed world. It is not just hookworm or other parasites we loose, but many other kinds of bacteria. These are essential for healthy immune system also. a healthy gut has 2.5 kilos of bacteria. these bacteria are a very important part of the human immune system. we loose them through hygiene, poor eating habits, alcohol, chemicals, antibiotics etc. I cured my life long asthma and allergies at 30 by adding probiotics such as kefir, miso, manuka honey, ferments to my diet. I'm much stronger and healthy generally also.

Jul. 05 2011 12:14 AM
james from keego

um hi dose any1 have a expert i can talk to about paparsites

May. 20 2011 11:22 AM
Rachel from Iowa

Agree with Alex from NYC. How much of the result is just mental? Love the show!

Apr. 26 2011 03:38 PM
lynn from hookworms

What was the music titles on this program

Feb. 21 2011 12:48 PM
firakomn from St. Paul, Minnesota

Fascinating story, back in a day and still in many part of the world people are getting sick by this parasite. But have you heard that in Hollywood they use hookworms to loose weight? what do you think of it?

Oct. 07 2010 09:06 AM
Jessi from Brookline, MA

There's actually quite a bit of research on hookworm by Peter J. Hotez. An important point he makes in his book "Forgotten People, Forgotten Diseases" discusses the fact that hookworm spreads through any exposed skin, hands are also a very popular entrance for hookworm. And yes, outhouses have existed for a very LONG time, it was NOT invented in the South, nor even in the United States.
He also says that Giardia has disappeared but it hasn't, it still exists here in the United States.

Sep. 14 2010 09:34 AM
Randi Lynn from upstate

I believe some of the music in this segment is by Bela Fleck and an African thumb piano player from his return-to-Africa album Throw Down Your Heart. I highly recommend it. But I am not sure about the guitar piece.

Jun. 20 2010 10:01 PM
Andrew from Los Angeles

Please provide the musical artist or at least some way to track down the musician/composer.

May. 01 2010 02:42 PM
Marisano from Davis, CA

I wonder what it is about hard-packed clay soils that does in hookworms. (I also wonder why Rockefeller didn't just give the wealthy farmers some clay to place around their favorite poo-trees.)

@Ted, I don't think the general (good) prosperity of the community had much to do with whether or not farmers wore shoes - according to Despommier, it was the rich farmers who were infected with hookworm.

Apr. 07 2010 02:37 AM
Patrick from Boston

Please provide the artist who played that great slide guitar piece at the end of the segment!

Mar. 27 2010 10:19 PM
steve shea from western ma

oops, I guess that was answered...too many hookworms suck too much blood.

Mar. 06 2010 11:03 PM
steve shea from western ma

One interesting question that comes up here here is why the hookworm infestation is "good" for an allergic person but somehow deleterious for the the "lethargic" southerners.

Perhaps these southerners had poor nutrition or some coinfection that caused the hookwork infestation to result in the alleged anemia.

Mar. 06 2010 11:03 PM
Alex from NYC

I just listened to this episode a day after listening to the "Placebo" (rebraodcast on 12/28/09) ... sounds like Jasper's claim might belong in both episodes.

Feb. 24 2010 05:58 PM
Amanda

Ace,

Despommier is talking about how Rockefeller's scientists studied the lifecycle of the hookworm and discovered that hookworms crawl away from the place they were deposited. He then says:

"So how in the world could you deal with this problem when these worms can crawl four feet...Unless you do something radical, that's never been done before. They devised a scheme for burying the stool sample into the ground six feet deep.... We call that the outhouse. So the outhouse was invented by exploring the life cycle of hookworm."

So yes, it most certainly does imply that outhouses were invented in the early 20th century in response to the hookworm problem.

Amanda

Jan. 29 2010 01:48 PM
Deb from W CHicago

Amazing and intriguing information on hookworms... Good stuff! Youve gained another listener for sure. Good show and I agree in my amazement of closed minded people even in the light of stopping their suffering...rediculous..that the human race thinks of themselves as above being so... human. duh!

Jan. 07 2010 10:24 AM
Ted Welch from Wilmette, IL

Being something of an autodidact in the social history of sanitary engineering, I would suggest that neither Ace or Amanda are quite on the mark. The use of outhouses goes back centuries in places where humans created permanent housing for themselves. Originally the motivation was likely more to avoid "fouling the nest" than any association of human waste with disease. The association of infected southerners in Rockefeller's studies with homes lacking privies wasn't so strong a predictor of hookworm infection as was the educational attainment and general prosperity of a community. Wearing shoes of any kind, especially for children, was a luxury in many rural parts of the pre 20th Century south. More significant for the rural southerner's probability of being infected with hookworm was not whether a person had an outhouse behind his/her cabin, but whether he or she regularly wore foot covering AND the prevalence of outhouse use in the larger community.

Historically, the other alternative to human waste disposal was to defecate in moving water (either a tidal zone or a river). We still use water today with the modern toilet to carry away our waste. With the increasing demands on a limited supply of potable water around most of the world, it is debatable how long we will be able to enjoy the luxury of flushing 1.6 gallons of potable water every time we defecate or urinate.

Well maintained, properly constructed outhouses and/or composting toilets may well have a comeback in many non-urban areas.

Jan. 06 2010 01:34 PM
Tsim from Berkeley, California

Hi! Thanks for using my photo for your piece, but be sure to contact me if you plan to do so again.
-"Grumpies"

Oct. 08 2009 12:39 AM
Ace Frahm

Amanda is incorrect. The story does not imply the invention of outhouses in response to the hookworm discovery. It merely says the infected southerners didn't have outhouses.

Oct. 05 2009 12:34 AM
Susan Bissonnette from New York

Fascinating story, thank you for your research and interesting stories that support them.

Sep. 25 2009 04:14 PM
Amanda

Hi there,
This was a fantastic episode, but I'm troubled by a claim made in the outhouse segment. Despommier seems to strongly imply if not directly state that outhouses were invented in the early 20th century in response to these discoveries about hookworms. That just isn't true--outhouses have been around for centuries, and there are even two-story outhouses (!) that predate Rockefeller's interest. He may have found a scientific reason for digging them a certain depth, and he might be responsible for popularizing them in a specific region, but humanity figured out how to poop in a hole before the 1900s.

Sep. 23 2009 03:04 PM
Tom from Phoenix

Same question. I came here looking for a music citation to discover the slide guitar artist. PLEASE tell us.

Sep. 17 2009 05:07 PM
Zach

What was that awesome music that connects this segment with the one that follows???

Sep. 15 2009 01:53 PM
Jonas

What was the music that played at the end of this segment?

Sep. 14 2009 02:26 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.