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The Controversial and Mysterious Morgellons Disease

Imagine going to your doctor with a crippling condition that simply won't improve only to be ignored, called a faker, or written off as “delusional.”  It happens more than you may think. People stricken with the mysterious and controversial Morgellons disease often have to deal with such distressing attitudes despite the fact that there are reports of the condition in every state and in 15 countries worldwide.

What is Morgellons disease?

Morgellons is a condition with unexplained dermopathy (disease of the skin) and manifests with a range of skin symptoms that are debilitating and frightening.  People suffering with Morgellons experience the following symptoms:                

  • Sores or rashes on the skin accompanied by intense itching
  • The feeling of crawling sensations underneath or on the skin described as insects moving, biting, or stinging.
  • Black or white stringy threads or fibers on or in the skin.
  • Debilitating fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Mental fogginess or short-term memory loss
  • Vision changes

Those affected with Morgellons describe the condition as maddening.  The open skin lesions heal very slowly and in the meantime may ooze out blue, black, red, or white threads or fibers that can be as thick as spaghetti strands.  Trying to remove the fibers cause shooting pains that radiate from the sore.

The Morgellons controversy.

Other than anecdotal reports, experts really don’t know much more about Morgellons. Some health professionals believe that it is a specific condition and future research will confirm it. Others hold to the idea that the signs and symptoms of Morgellons are actually symptoms of a mental illness. Others still refuse to acknowledge it until more research reveals more about the condition.  All agree that diagnosing what is actually going on is a difficult task.

One reason the diagnosis is often difficult is because Morgellons shares many characteristics with other diseases such as liver and kidney disease, Lyme disease, alcohol abuse, or a mental illness such as schizophrenia.  Some medical professionals believe Morgellons is actually delusional parasitosis - a type of mental illness whereby one imagines his or her body is infested with parasites. 

So what is the answer?

Since the symptoms of Morgellons are diverse and complex, in 2006 the CDC undertook a thorough and ongoing investigation along with Kaiser Permanente's Northern California Division of Research.   The primary goals are to learn more about who may be affected with the condition, the symptoms, and what factors may contribute to it.  During the investigation scientists will attempt to finally determine the clinical and epidemiological features of Morgellons, examine skin biopsies for affected patients, identify the fibers or threads from those affected, and finally estimate rates of illness among the population.

The validity of Morgellons disease has yet to be resolved.  Whether it is a real disease with a biological basis or another name for delusional parasitosis, until the results are in Morgellons will remain a mystery.

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