Morgellons: A Mystery More Than Skin Deep?
Scully dictates into a tiny recorder, peering intently at a freshly-prepared slide through a state-of-the-art microscope. Fox Mulder slouches in the shadows of the lab, awaiting the diagnosis.
“Fine irregular fibers of several colors, matching no known man-made substance, definitely not hair of animal origin, woven into and protruding from the dermis to the surface of the skin. Hmmm. No bugs here that these victims describe crawling under their skin, but no wonder they itch!”
“And there are more than 12,000 similar cases now from every state and 15 other countries” Mulder mutters “so even the CDC is taking an interest now.”
“Hard to believe it has taken so long” the svelte X-file sleuth replies. “But I can tell you this won’t be thought of as a delusional dermatitis any more!”
If you read the description of what has been known since 2002 as Morgellons Disease (and CDC really is on the case) you too might have an X-files moment like mine. Matters become even more muddy when you follow the threads (bad pun) that attempt to connect this skin and neurological condition to a cause.
The popularly-held Internet-spread ideas of where Morgellons comes from range from substances being intentionally sprayed on the populace by way of “chemtrails” (a well-established conspiracy theory I had not been aware of) to a consequence of genetically-modified foods (search: agrobacterium).
Medical types are divided on the legitimacy of Morgellons. Segments on Nightline, The Today Show and other prominent programs have brought the condition into the national spotlight briefly. Sure enough, CDC through Kaiser-Permanente of Northern California (an area with a high concentration of this “unexplained dermopathy”) has begun an investigation. Results won’t be known until sometime early in 2009. Here’s how CDC describes the condition:
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 vision.
Maybe I’m more interested in following this story than most folks. Some of that curiosity comes from the fact that, over the past almost 20 years as a physical therapist, I’ve witnessed not a few patients who suffer from (and most recover from) conditions that never have a name or known cause. For those who think we have all the medical answers, a purported and unexplained condition like Morgellons seems far-fetched. I’m not so sure though, and will wait for hard facts to rise to the surface on the sea of speculation.
Interesting to me too is that to follow the development of Morgellons, disease or delusion, is a study in the way information and mis-information evolves in our times. It isn’t easy to know who to believe while across the globe, victims of rare symptoms find each other on the internet and tell the world. Perhaps such rare afflictions have always been with us, and we simply have the tools now to see them aggregated and visible in our web of digital connectedness.
Will the CDC report on Morgellons in 2009 represent a final debunking of mass delusional itch or a shocking exposÃ© of X-files revelations? Real people are suffering real symptoms. I hope for their sakes that they find real answers.