Morgellons Disease to Get CDC Scrutiny

Morgellons disease, a mysterious skin ailment that some doctors aren’t even sure is a real <"">disease, is now the subject of a national study.  On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began a study—in collaboration with Kaiser Permanante—Morgellons disease, which causes a crawling sensation and lesions that won’t heal.  This is the agency’s first attempt to determine whether Morgellons is a legitimate illness or caused by patient imagination.

Dr. Michele Pearson, principal investigator for the CDC, would not acknowledge that the illness is real, but said the agency has received enough inquiries during the past year that it deserves to be considered and, hopefully, explained saying, “Clearly the suffering that these patients are experiencing is real.”  The two groups will work to gather information about the illness, including common symptoms, possible causes, and shared risk factors. Researchers will look only at patients in northern California, the state with the highest number of self-reported cases.

Morgellons disease is a poorly understood condition a growing number of physicians believes to be a chronic infectious disease, but which is not yet fully recognized by the medical community.  Symptoms include itching, biting, and crawling sensations; filaments, fibers, seed-like granules, and/or black speck-like material which emerge from the skin; skin lesions which range from minor to disfiguring and may not heal; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia (ME), joint pain, and significant problems with concentration and memory, including changes in cognition, memory loss, mood disturbance, and serious neurological manifestations.  At this time, the cause of Morgellons disease is unknown and there is no known cure.

Many patients report feeling abandoned by the medical community, because they experience increasingly bizarre, disfiguring and painful symptoms, while often being unable to receive medical treatment.  Also, because they can no longer work, a large number of patients become financially devastated and without health insurance.  Most people who suffer from Morgellons report feeling frightened and hopeless.  Added to this is the skepticism in the medical community about whether the illness actually exists; many doctors believe patients who show Morgellons’ symptoms suffer from delusional parasitosis, a psychotic illness in which patients believe they are infected with parasites.

It is unknown if Morgellons is contagious; however, multiple family members seem to be affected at the same time in many cases.  As a matter-of-fact, many families in Houston, Texas are self-diagnosed with the condition, making the area a Morgellons hot spot, according to the Morgellons Research Foundation, a nonprofit group that has become the primary source of information about the disorder.  Over 11,000 families have contacted the foundation indicating they believe they have the illness. “What needs to be done ultimately and quickly is that the cause of this illness needs to be identified,” said Mary Leitao, a biologist who gave the disorder its name and founded the foundation in 2002 after her 2-year-old son began showing symptoms. “It’s frustrating to have a sick child and not be able to get help, to have to find your own answers, fight through a system, and then to be treated in such a cruel way by certain groups that just cannot accept that this is real.”

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