Itchy Condition Debated as Either Delusion or Parasitic Infection

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Rumors about an ancient and strange illness have started resurfacing after several hundred years without any reports. The condition is sort of like scabietic lesions (scabies), but with the additional side effect of oozing. The most interesting part? There seem to be hairs or fibers in the liquid that comes from these lesions.

 In fact, the name of the condition, “morgellons,” which is not medically accepted, is taken from a passage published by Sir Thomas Browne in 1690. He refers to it as a “. . . distemper of children in Languedoc, called the morgellons, wherein they critically break out with harsh hairs on their backs.”

 The name morgellons was then adapted by Mary Leitao, a McMurray, Pennsylvania resident who thought that the description of hairs reminded her of the fibers she found in and on the lesions of her son, who had an unexplained rash. Because this disease has not been nationally recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the name is not medically accepted, but serves as an identifier for the time being.

 Aside from oozing strange fibers, the wounds are also said to contain specks that look like sand or little furry balls. There’s also a sensation of crawling on and under the skin, much like insects moving on the body or even biting it. However, these “insects” cannot be seen by the naked eye. Serious fatigue and memory problems may also occur. Many patients have also been diagnosed with neurological disorders such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other such conditions.

 This is the main reason why patients have had a hard time getting doctors to take them seriously. Some doctors claim that the condition is psychological. Some have even said that the crawling sensations are imagined and that the fibers are just pieces from clothes that have stuck in skin, which has been scratched excessively to the point of breaking. Still, there have been many images of these fibers published in medical journals.

 Treatments for the disease are vast. Some people find that antibiotics are helpful while others find that simply bandaging or casting the area to prevent scratching is enough to heal the lesions. Images of the lesions are quite disturbing and they look very real. Still, doctors are debating whether or not this condition exists at all.

 A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology has stated that the condition may be related to Lyme disease and that successes with antibiotics show that there is some tie to an infectious agent that is responsible for it. The study suggests that when a virus, bacteria, or parasite is unknown, then it can be difficult to prove that infection — not a psychological problem — is causing the symptoms.

 There’s hope that doctors will explore this disease further in order to find out if it exists and if it does, what we can do to protect ourselves from this strange and unpleasant illness.