Following the Thread: Delusional Dermopathy

a.k.a. Morgellons Disease. Initially dismissed as nothing but a kind of mental aberration, now with more than 12,000 “registered” sufferers from all 50 states and more than a dozen foreign countries, CDC is on the case. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States announced the launch of an investigation on ‘Morgellons Disease’ in January 2008 [1], after receiving thousands of complaints from people with this bewildering condition, which it describes as follows [2]: “Persons who suffer from this unexplained skin condition report a range of cutaneous (skin) symptoms including crawling, biting and stinging sensations; granules, threads, fibers, or black speck-like materials on or beneath the skin, and/or skin lesions (e.g., rashes or sores). In addition to skin manifestations, some sufferers also report fatigue, mental confusion, short term memory loss, joint pain, and changes in visions.”

Morgellons Disease first became known in 2001, when Mary Leitao created a web site describing the illness in her young son, which she named after a 17th century medical study in France describing similar symptoms [3]. Until then, people with Morgellons Disease have been diagnosed as cases of “delusional parasitosis”, in which the symptoms are deemed entirely imaginary, and lesions allegedly due to self-inflicted wounds.

Some early evidence (with a very small sample size at this point) suggests a bacterial agent associated with Morgellons–all the more significant in that this particular bacterium (Agrobacterium) is everywhere, has the ability to transfer some of its genetic material into organisms other than fellow bacterial types, AND that this organism is an agent in genetically modifying plant crops. (Are you hearing the intro theme to X-files yet?) And some fringe groups (natch) are shouting ET GO HOME!

I’ve followed this for more than six months and it only gets more interesting. If you haven’t heard about this previously unknown and very rare condition, my guess is that like WNS in bats over the past six months, the topic will snowball as CDC either substantiates or refutes the legitimacy of this “new disease”. Wikipedia has a good set of resource links of you’re interested and here’s a link to Google News archives for 2008 on the topic to date.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I know a fella in Vancouver who had all these symptoms. A year-long debilitating fatigue, and all sorts of creepy-crawly fiber feelings…. So maybe he wasn’t nuts?