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Could a Tiny Worm Help Treat Autism?

Adults with autism who were intentionally infected with a parasitic intestinal worm experienced an improvement in their behavior, researchers say.

After swallowing whipworm eggs for 12 weeks, people with autism became more adaptable and less likely to engage in repetitive actions, said study lead author Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

Use of the worms relates to the "hygiene hypothesis," which holds that some autoimmune disorders might be caused by a lack of microbes or parasites present in the body during earlier, less hygienic times, Hollander said. These bugs might help regulate the immune response in the human body.

"We found these individuals had less discomfort associated with a deviation in their expectations," Hollander said. "They were less likely to have a temper tantrum or act out."

The whipworm study is one of two novel projects Hollander is scheduled to present Thursday at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Hollywood, Fla.

The other therapy -- hot baths for children with autism -- also was found to improve symptoms, Hollander said.

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