What We Know About Morgellons

More and more people are reporting suffering from Morgellons, a skin disease involving a feeling of crawling, biting or stinging, seeming to see odd fibers in the skin, and rashes or sores. The key word here is "reporting": in most cases, doctors find no sign of any illness beyond what is called delusional parasitosis, in which patients become convinced they are infested, such as with bugs, despite a lack of any evidence of any agent causing this infestation. In addition, 50 percent of hair samples from people identifying themselves as Morgellons patients tested positive for drugs such as marijuana, anti-anxiety medications or painkillers containing codeine derivatives, suggesting an alternative explanation for their experiences of symptoms in at least some cases.

Doctors who diagnose their patients with delusional parasitosis are increasingly using the term Morgellons for the condition, in order to not offend or drive off patients by seeming to label them delusional or to doubt the patients’ reported experiences. However, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in 2012 found no indication of any biological basis for Morgellons with the occasional exception that turned out to be a different, known, skin condition.

The name was first used for the apparent condition by a hospital lab technician turned stay-at-home mother, who adopted it from a monograph by the 17th century writer, doctor, and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne. Browne used the term Morgellons to describe what appears to be an unrelated "endemial distemper" he found among children in the Languedoc region in the south of France. The disease Browne described involved was pediatric and involved "coughs and convulsions"; modern Morgellons is found in adults and is primarily a skin disease.

If Morgellons is simply a delusion, why are the reported symptoms so consistent? There are two main answers to this. First, Morgellons patients and parents of Morgellons patients are a community. Chances are no one is lying or being deliberately misleading, but he phenomenon of "that happened to me too" is strong. With no actual experiences, patients are highly prone to the influence of their fellows’ reported experiences and he stories develop a certain similarity. The second reason is that the specific indicators of Morgellons may not be real, but the underlying sensations are; Morgellons is a pattern imposed on random itchiness by people hungry for any solution.

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