Health Talk: Morgellons

The Internet connects people around the world — an unparalleled network of information about almost everything, accessible almost everywhere. But can it fabricate a disease?

The Morgellons Research Foundation states Morgellons is characterized mainly by the belief that fibers are emerging from the skin. Symptoms of itching, biting and crawling sensations also exist, as do skin lesions. There are even more ambiguous symptoms to describe the affliction, including changes in cognition, memory loss, mood disturbance, and serious neurological manifestations. The fibers supposedly produced from individuals who had Morgellons have been analyzed by scientists in the Tulsa Police Crime Lab, and did not match anything in an FBI database, meaning more research is to be done. These fibers are of diferent colors and appear in bundles. After tests were run under the direction of lab director Mark Boese, it was concluded that the fibers could have been a byproduct of some organism, although it was not stated which.

Many people with Morgellons claim they feel these fibers under their skin: some in large patches on their back, and others in small places, like on the toes. A few report pain and disfigurement. There is one common idea stated by patients: these fibers cause enough damage to change the lives of the sufferers.

Other causes have been proposed to explain the fibers. Some believe they may be caused by a certain bacterium or parasite, and others believe they are created by the body in a form of an immune response. Many researchers have proposed their own explanations, but often without sufficient evidence to support their claims.

Morgellons is a controversial disease; at least 13,000 families suffer from it, but the actual number is thought to be even higher.
However, its origins are as uncertain as its classification in the medical world. The name Morgellons can be traced back to 2001 to a woman named Mary Leitao, whose two-year-old son developed lip sores and noted feelings of “bugs.” After examining the sores, she found that they contained a number of fibers growing from them. However, her claims were dubious; many doctors did not find anything unusual with the sores, even as Leitao continued to note the emergence of more fibers from her son. Some doctors suggested Leitao suffered from a syndrome where a parent pretends a child is sick for attention. Nevertheless, Leitao continued to research the disease more and eventually formed the Morgellons Research Foundation.

Using the Internet, individuals can diagnose their own symptoms if they feel they have a disease. Without proper medical training, and with the panic that may accompany the belief of having a disease, it is likely that many could have found symptoms of Morgellons online that matched their own. They would have then concluded they had the disease. As more and more people searched for their symptoms and found Morgellons, it became more widely known. However, at the rate information spreads around the Internet, some believe it is likely Morgellons is simply an Internet meme that spread quickly but is not entirely true.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are currently researching Morgellons and have not yet confirmed if it is a real, infectious disease. However, most medical professionals do not believe Morgellons is a real disease, and instead note its similarity to some psychological disorders. One of the most prominent theories explains Morgellons as being delusional parasitosis. This is a psychiatric disorder where patients believe they are infected with parasites and may even feel them under their skin, a condition known as formication. Patients may also attempt to remove these imaginary parasites by picking away at their skin, explaining the lesions that are found in those afflicted with Morgellons. Some are also known to collect the removed parasites and fibers from under the skin as proof of disease and present them to physicians. Those with Morgellons might show their fibers to their doctors. Morgellons is also believed to be confused with true skin disorders such as different forms of dermatitis. In addition, real parasites, like scabies, can cause similar symptoms. The scabies parasite buries under the skin, causing itching.

While Morgellons cannot yet be discarded as a fabrication, its strongest support comes from its victims instead of researchers. Morgellons must provide true scientific evidence before it can be accepted by the medical community.