Morgellons Recap, for the CDC

With the current media attention due to the CDC announcement and press conference (transcript here), this is a good time to recap what is known about Morgellons, specifically the many misconceptions.

The CDC is investigating not because the evidence indicates that there is something going on, but rather because of the intense political pressure and media campaigns orchestrated by the Morgellons Research Foundation. This is very unusual. says:

The [Morgellons] debate has grown so heated that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got involved, and not because they wanted to. They were inundated with calls from irate people who say they have this disorder and want answers. “More typically we get a very credible indication of an emerging problem from an official source,” says Dan Rutz, spokesperson for the CDC. “This was driven by lay people and some clinicians who are frustrated and not sure what to do with these folks.”

The “lesions” on Morgellons patients look exactly like the lesions on patients with Neurotic Excoriations. i.e., they look like they are self inflicted. Many Morgellons patients confess to “picking” their lesions to get the “morgs” out, and to obsessive scratching. I was rather surprised so see Dr. Joe Selby of Kaiser point to the photo on the left (below) and say: “They don’t look like any recognized skin rash” (on ABC7). When there is a very well documented condition that produces an IDENTICAL “rash” (see the photo on the right, or click here for more). Several of the photos that ABC7 used to illustrate “Morgellons” are actually lifted directly from the second page on neurotic excoriations.


Update: Dr Selby clarified his remarks via email:

What I’d meant to say was that the lesions don’t look like a characteristic rash other than self-inflicted lesions. We’d been speaking off camera about shingles and other characteristic, recognizable lesions. These do look like neurotic excoriations. [this does not imply] that I think these are simply neurotic excoriations. An ultimate purpose of our research is to determine whether there is reason to suspect that they are something other than or in addition to neurotic excoriations.

There are lots of cases in California because there has been a lot of sensational local media coverage in California.

The sensation of things crawling on and under your skin is a common medical symptom known as formication. It’s a symptom of hundreds of medical conditions, ranging from menopause and diabetes, to the side effects of many prescription drugs such as ritalin. Having this sensation does not mean someone is crazy. It’s just a symptom.

The fibers that people report finding are typically very small, a fraction of an inch long. Visually they appear very much like common household lint. Run your finger across the top of your monitor – that’s the type of stuff. While people claim it emerges from their skin, nobody in the last five years has produced any evidence that this happens. Not one simple study. Not one photo. Nothing. Just a lot of anecdotal evidence – usually by the patient. This photo is of my laundry lint.

The photos that people post online are just normal stuff under a cheap microscope. I took a lot of similar photos to demonstrate this. Feel free to use them for any purpose.

Other than the fibers, which you find on your skin when you look, even if you don’t have Morgellons, the list of symptoms attributed to Morgellons is very long and poorly specified and is shared by several other conditions, including Menopause.

It’s not a battle between “a real disease” and “just a delusion”. The real question is if all these people have something in common, or if they all have their own specific medical problems, and have just self-diagnosed with Morgellons because their doctors have been unable to cure them. Even if some are delusional, doctors don’t “dismiss” them. Delusions that affect your health are very serious, just as serious as physical illness. Frequently, however, delusions are simply a component in a more complex medical condition. See secondary organic delusional parasitosis for example.