February 2009

Morgellons Disease as Internet Meme



The recent success of the Morgellons-disease meme is, in part, explained by the fact that the Morgellons label resonates with symptomatic individuals. In one person’s words: “I felt so relieved. I found all these people talking about the same thing I was.”4 Accordingly, Morgellons disease has been considered a rapport-enhancing term in clinical medicine.5 The dermatology literature indicates that Morgellons disease is likely the equivalent of “delusional parasitosis,” a psychiatric illness in which patients erroneously believe that their skin is infested with parasites.5,6This competing conventional meme has been unpopular among individuals identifying themselves as having Morgellons disease.

For Morgellons disease, most information available to patients exists on the Internet; thus, the World Wide Web is a second important contributor to the proliferation of the Morgellons moniker. With widespread reports dating back only about 3 years, Morgellons has seen explosive growth for a concept dormant for more than 300 years. A large CDC-supported descriptive study is underway: a first formal clinical epidemiologic investigation of the Morgellons phenomenon, involving skin biopsies and fiber analysis (http://www.cdc.gov/unexplaineddermopathy/investigation.html).4 Results will characterize Morgellons as either a novel illness or an internet meme synonymous with one or more previously described disorders.

I think they gravely misunderstand the use of the term “rapport-enhancing”.  Here they seem to suggest a rapport between patients, yet in the literature they reference (Murase, Wu, and Koo), the term “rapport-enhancing” refers to rapport between doctor and patient.