Morgellons Disease Stumps Experts
CDC Launches Investigation of Rare Skin Problem
Jan. 17, 2008 -- A mysterious skin
problem is erupting all over the country -- and it's caught the CDC's
attention. It's been called Morgellons disease, and health officials don't know
what to make of it.
More than 11,000 people in the U.S. and elsewhere have reported the
same symptoms: itchy, severe skin sores with strange fibers
"growing" out of them. There are creepy-crawly sensations, like insects
crawling beneath their skin. Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and
visual disturbances have also been reported.
The CDC is about to launch a study investigating this illness and has
contracted with Kaiser Permanente of Northern California as its location.
In California, both the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles are
considered "hot spots," with a large concentration of self-reported
cases of the symptoms, reports Michele Pearson, MD, the CDC study's principal
Initially, Texas and Florida also had large numbers of
"self-reports," says Pearson, but now they're coming from all 50 states
as well as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
"Exactly what this means, we don't really know," Pearson tells
WebMD. "We hope to look at this critically. Are these true clusters of
illness or are there more cases because these are large population
Patients Are Desperate
"There's a lot of speculation about this," Pearson says. "We
don't know if this is a new problem or newly recognized problem. We don't know
if it's infectious. We don't have any good evidence that it's communicable.
However, there are good reports of clustering within families and within
households. We are going to look at true clustering in regions and in
What she does know, Pearson says, is that "patients are fairly
desperate. They are suffering. Many have felt so alienated from the traditional
care system that they are seeking some alternative therapies."
Many doctors are similarly frustrated, says Pearson. "They don't feel
they have anything to offer patients. Patients feel they are fairly quickly
dismissed as having a delusional disorder or psychiatric disorder as a
primary cause for their symptoms. When that occurs, they tend to drop out of
traditional care systems and look at alternative treatments."
"It's clear that this is a complex disorder and is likely due to
multiple factors," she explains. "Some common conditions may be causing
the symptoms -- diabetes, thyroid conditions, autoimmune conditions. These can
present with chronic ulcerative lesions, chronic itching. Those are some things
we hope look for as part of our evaluation."
Kaiser Permanante was chosen for the study because of its electronic search
system, Pearson says. "We can query their database for certain diagnoses
and symptoms, complaints. We can try to identify people who came in with
fibers, threads, and other symptoms. It's a good way to identify patients who
are potentially eligible."