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 exposé of X-files revelations? Real people are suffering real symptoms. I hope for their sakes that they find real answers.

Article appeared in the May 16 issue of the Roanoke Star-Sentinel
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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 suffer from this.Enough said.
    What I am wondering is when this stuff first manifested itself everyone said it was Internet hype .The first of many conditions ,and many more will surface.My question is ,where’s all the rest.You know what I mean.I’m sure glad there isn’t any.This means maby they will focus more on this.
    By the way.I truly believe that the genetically modified foods is the reason for this.These stupid bastards think they can modify foods (in order to corner thew food market) and there will be no consequence’s.We cannot think that we can introduce something Genetically ,and everything will be fine.Things take sometimes millions of years to evolve.Their is a symbiosis at work .And to think they can do this without repercussions is ridicules. No wonder the bees are disappearing .This shit may look the same(pollen) to these people who are getting paid to look at it .(getting paid by their own company) but to a bee IT DONT LOOK RIGHT AT ALL.they cant feed this stuff to their offspring .They would all die.CANT YOU SEE IT.Or are you that goofy also.