2006-07-20 / Health & Wellness
Morgellons: Disease or delusion?
In the past, patients with psychological disorders would often be beaten for disobedience and jailed for inappropriate behavior due to the lack of understanding of their ailment. Physicians would not take the time to perform a proper examination, nor have the compassion to listen to the afflicted.
The same problem has arisen with Morgellons Disease, a disorder with symptoms that include unexplained sores that won't heal and the sensation of something crawling beneath the skin. Ninety-five percent of Morgellons patients are diagnosed with delusional parasitosis, a psychological disorder, and given antipsychotic medication as treatment.
A 35-year-old female recently came to the NeuroMed and NeuroTox Association in Agoura Hills complaining of materials protruding from her skin that look like thin, multicolored threads. Taking off her socks, she showed the physician what appeared to be white lint, but said her skin was producing shiny fibers. For most doctors, this claim would be difficult to accept since white socks often leave white fibers, yet Dr. Gunnar Heuser chose to believe Patty (not her real name), and took a sample of the fiber to be analyzed by a lab.
Dr. William T. Harvey from the Morgellons Research Foundation insists the Morgellon's phenomenon is real.
Distinct geographic cluster areas of this disease have been noted near Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego, as well as near Houston, Dallas, Austin, and Round Rock in Texas. Although California represents 12 percent of the U.S. population, 26 percent of those registered with the Morgellons Research Foundation reside in California.
It is difficult to say whether Morgellons is contagious. The physicians at the Morgellons Research Foundation have seen family members of affected individuals who exhibit no symptoms whatsoever. On the other hand, many entire families have reported becoming infected at or near the same time.
Many patients have been told their symptoms are psychiatric and have been placed on potent drugs to help heal their "psychosis." But the disorder may be more common than anyone suspects. It has been identified as an infectious disease and could be the cause of many suspicious skin lesions.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided in June to begin investigating Morgellons and determine whether it truly exists. The action from the CDC came after more than a year of pressure from patients who are convinced they have Morgellons.
"We need to debunk this if there isn't anything to it or identify if there is indeed a new, unrecognized disease that needs attention," said Dan Rutz, C D C spokesperson.
E v e n
E v e n as an increasing number of doctors admit that Morgellons is a physical, not psychological disorder, opportunities for treatment remain limited.
Some doctors in Texas and the Bay Area have tried treating patients with antibiotics and other medicines. Heuser said he hopes to use hyperbaric oxygen treatment, as it has shown to be successful in some situations.
There is no accepted cure, however, since the disease continues to be a mystery to researchers.