Worm Wagon – From Parasite Selfies to worms in a jar

On Friday 6th March, The University of Manchester hosted the ‘Worm Wagon’. The Worm Wagon, which started here at the Kory as a wormUniversity in 2009, has gone around the UK teaching the public about neglected tropical diseases. Specifically, the group looks at parasitic infections and how our bodies help fight against them. With over 25 different locations visited and with more than 5,000 people attending events, the Worm Wagon has proven to be a huge success.

The Worm Wagon workshop uses various different interactive elements to effectively communicate ideas about parasites. For example, the ‘parasite plunge’ is used to teach participants about how our body produces mucus which helps to purge the invaders from our bodies. The volunteer has to place their hands inside a mucus and parasite filled container (made up of rubber worms and jelly) and pick out a worm which they get to keep. This activity is coupled with some fascinating teaching resources which look at the lifecycles of worms such as Helminths and Tapeworms. Perhaps the most bizarre activity you can take part in is the ‘Parasite Selfie’. A cut out of a Whipworm, a type of Helminth which affects the large intestine in humans, is set up so that guests can be pictured as if they were the worm!

Visitors can also get up close and personal with worms by viewing specimens in jars.  From the tiny little Ascaridia Galli which is found in chickens, to the potentially enormous tapeworms that are found in millions of people, guests get to see exactly how these parasitic worms enter our bodies. This allows them to get a better idea of what the parasites look like and helps to educate them about preventative measures they can take to ensure they don’t become infected. This knowledge can then be tested in a fun game of Parasite Top Trumps! This specially designed game helps participants compare parasitic infections to other global diseases to help raise awareness of just how prevalent these conditions can be.

When asked about the importance of a better understanding of parasitic worms, Professor Kath Else, a Senior Research Fellow at the FLS and Worm Wagon coordinator had this to say: “They [parasitic diseases] have huge consequences because of the ill health – they trap whole countries into poverty because they have a knock-on effects on worker productivity and big effects on child development”

With parasite infections affecting well over a billion people worldwide, perhaps more people should come visit the worm wagon!

 

Guest blog by Kory Stout, Video by Matthew Spencer