CDC to investigate mysteries of Morgellons disease

August 1, 2006

Atlanta - The federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that it will begin investigating a mysterious disease for which no cause has been identified - and which most medical professionals, including dermatologists, believe isn't a disease at all, but a psychotic disorder.

Atlanta - The federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that it will begin investigating a mysterious disease for which no cause has been identified - and which most medical professionals, including dermatologists, believe isn't a disease at all, but a psychotic disorder.

It's called Morgellons disease. To date, no clinical studies have been done on Morgellons, and only one paper written on it. That paper, published earlier this year in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, describes Morgellons symptoms as "insect-like sensations (i.e., crawling, stinging and biting sensations) as well as skin lesions, which can be anything from minor to disfiguring in their appearance (and) fiber-like material (that) often can be removed from skin lesions as either single strands or what appear to be balls of wound fibrous materials."

Patients complain of disabling fatigue, inattentiveness, sleep disorders, joint pain, hair loss, vision problems, neurologic disorders and even occasional disintegration of previously healthy teeth. Patients say they frequently have to stop working, and report that even if they do continue to work they can function only minimally.

According to the paper, many of these patients "have sought help from between 10 and 40 physicians and report that their symptoms are not taken seriously" and that physicians "do not even conduct a thorough examination, but make an instant diagnosis of delusional parasitosis and attribute the obvious open sores on the patient's skin to attempts at self-mutilation."

Traditionally, write the authors, patients who present with these symptoms and complaints are given prescriptions for anti-psychotic drugs such as pimozide or risperidone.

The paper was authored by San Francisco physician Raphael B. Stricker, M.D.; Austin, Texas, nurse practitioner Virginia R. Savely, R.N., F.N.P.C.; and Morgellons Research Foundation Executive Director Mary M. Leitao, a South Carolina biologist who started the foundation four years ago after doing her own research into her three children's Morgellons-like symptoms that doctors could not explain.

The Morgellons Research Foundation has been instrumental in bringing attention to the mysterious affliction and in recruiting researchers and physicians around the country to learn more about the disease and back the foundation's claim that Morgellons is not the result of a delusional disorder. (Both Savely and Dr. Stricker are listed as members of the foundation's medical advisory board on the Morgellons Research Foundation's Web site, http://www.morgellons.org/.)

CDC to weigh in

The CDC made its decision to investigate Morgellons after receiving numerous communications from "the lay public and clinical people" over recent years, says CDC spokesman Dan Rutz.

"These complaints have come in for a number of years," he says. "We're in the process of forming a multi-disciplinary working group to look into Morgellons and develop a scientific case definition. Until that's done, we're going after this with an open mind and not drawing any conclusions either way."

Some in the medical community say they think the CDC could merely be placating those who've communicated their concern about Morgellons not being taken seriously to the CDC - and, perhaps more significantly, to their congressional representatives.

William T. Harvey, M.D., is a retired U.S. Air Force physician and scientist who specialized in space science, space medicine and space medicine research, and later served as medical director for the Space Station Program for Lockheed Corp. and at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. He has come out of retirement to research Morgellons and treat patients, and is now a clinician at Rocky Mountain Chronic Disease Specialists in Colorado Springs, Colo. Dr. Harvey also serves on the Morgellons Research Foundation's medical advisory board.