Global issues in allergy and immunology: Parasitic infections and allergy

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Abstract

Allergic diseases are on the increase globally in parallel with a decrease in parasitic infection. The inverse association between parasitic infections and allergy at an ecological level suggests a causal association. Studies in human subjects have generated a large knowledge base on the complexity of the interrelationship between parasitic infection and allergy. There is evidence for causal links, but the data from animal models are the most compelling: despite the strong type 2 immune responses they induce, helminth infections can suppress allergy through regulatory pathways. Conversely, many helminths can cause allergic-type inflammation, including symptoms of “classical” allergic disease. From an evolutionary perspective, subjects with an effective immune response against helminths can be more susceptible to allergy. This narrative review aims to inform readers of the most relevant up-to-date evidence on the relationship between parasites and allergy. Experiments in animal models have demonstrated the potential benefits of helminth infection or administration of helminth-derived molecules on chronic inflammatory diseases, but thus far, clinical trials in human subjects have not demonstrated unequivocal clinical benefits. Nevertheless, there is sufficiently strong evidence to support continued investigation of the potential benefits of helminth-derived therapies for the prevention or treatment of allergic and other inflammatory diseases.

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