An Instagram post with nearly 14,000 likes contains a video clip that includes many misleading claims about parasitic worm infections.The clip has also been shared on Facebook and Twitter. The clip has a TikTok watermark for an account that appears to have been deleted (though two other accounts with similar names are on the platform).
The original video comes from an event called the “Global Sciences Congress 1997”, which took place in Florida. It shows a man called Wayne Rowland talking about parasites.
In particular, he claims that ammonia in the blood, bad breath, headaches and pimples are all caused by parasitic worms.
Parasitic worms can cause disease in humans, but they do not have some of the effects that this video claims, and the other symptoms more often have other causes.
Full Fact was unable to find any contact details for Mr Rowland.
Bad health information can introduce confusion about the causes and treatments of illnesses, create distrust of medical professionals, and distract from or undermine medical consensus and public health messaging. We have written before about claims relating to incorrect causes of diseases.
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Diseases caused by worms
Some of the most common parasitic worms are threadworms, especially in children. Tapeworms can also cause tummy upsets as well as more serious disease if younger forms of the parasite spread to other organs, known as a larval cyst infection.
Schistosomiasis, caused by a parasite not found in North America or Europe, can cause a range of mild to severe symptoms depending on length of infection. Many other worms can infect humans, such as flukes and hookworm that can cause liver and intestinal disease.
Worm infections are not the main cause of the symptoms Mr Rowland talks about, however.
During the talk, Mr Rowland tells the audience: “So just go to a doctor, have a blood test and see what level of ammonia is in your blood. If you have ammonia in your blood, that's called worm urine.”
Ammonia is a waste product formed by the breakdown of protein that is normally processed by the liver into urea. This urea is discharged from the body via the kidneys and into the urine. Problems at any point in this process, including kidney or most commonly liver disease, can lead to a buildup of ammonia in the blood.
This buildup is toxic to the brain and can cause symptoms like confusion, drowsiness and coma. This is a medical emergency and can be lethal, and those experiencing these symptoms must attend A&E for urgent treatment.
While some researchers have theorised on the potential for some parasites to produce harmful amounts of ammonia, it is wrong to suggest that raised ammonia necessarily means you have worm urine in your blood.
There is little research on the content of infectious worms’ urine.
Ammonia is not noted by the CDC as a blood test that can look for parasite infections.
Bad breath and headaches
The clip starts with Mr Rowland saying “by the time you’ve got halitosis, you're loaded, because that's worm urine and worm droppings that you're breathing out”.
Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath. It can be caused by a large number of conditions and behaviours, from smoking and poor oral hygiene to kidney and liver disease. The NHS advises that people can usually treat it by improving their oral hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing.
There have been links between parasite infections and bad breath, with one study in children finding that giving anti-parasite medication improved halitosis. But this doesn’t mean that if you have bad breath you are “loaded” with parasites.
Mr Rowland later says “if you're on a fast [...] and you get a headache, you got the headache because the worms are all peeing trying to get you to eat something else”
Rare reports of worms in brains aside, parasitic worm infections can cause headaches.
But headaches when fasting generally have more conventional explanations. Low blood sugar, dehydration and caffeine withdrawal are common causes.
Mr Rowland also says: “All children that have little tiny pimples on the backs of their arms. Or little tiny pimples here on the edges of their cheeks have five varieties of critters in them.”
Pimples are small growths or spots on the skin, which commonly occur when pores get blocked, especially as a result of acne. Pimples can be treated with home remedies applied to the skin. Acne has a number of causes including hormonal issues, medications, and cosmetic products, and can be treated with creams and lotions or through prescription medications.
Another common cause of bumps on the skin, including on the arms, is keratosis pilaris, a harmless condition that can occur when hair follicles become blocked with a build-up of keratin, a substance the body uses to make skin, hair and nails.
Threadworms, a common parasite in children, can cause irritation of the skin around the anus and genitals, but pimples aren’t recognised as symptoms of this infection by the NHS.
Ringworm, an infection that can cause skin rashes, is actually caused by a fungus, not a worm. The rash is distinct in appearance and not pimply. Scabies, caused by mites, can cause rashes in children in the areas mentioned, but again is usually a fairly distinct rash compared to pimples.
Featured image courtesy of Yale University Peabody Museum