Morgellons coverage in the local media has never been very good, with the natural tendency of TV news to compress things into sound bites, and to force emotional responses from their viewers instead of informing them.

This coverage reached a new low on 3/6/2008 with the broadcast of the KFMB piece titled : “Is Mysterious Skin Condition A Disease Or Delusion?”:

The majority of the segment is taken up with an interview with a woman who claims she has Morgellons.

Her symptoms began in July with what she thought was an insect bite. It soon evolved into skin lesions.

“One evening I was kind of scratching at one of them, what appeared to be a little white moth flew out of some of these lesions,” she said.

Her terror continues. She says citrus acid brings worm-like threads out of her body. Seeing is believing.

Here’s where things get ridiculous. The woman takes some freshly cut lemon, and rubs it vigorously over her hand for a minute, squeezing and twisting the lemon slice until her hand is covered with lemon juice and lemon pulp.

She then rubs her hands together, rolling the pulp around on her fingertips.

Then she points at some lemon pulp and says “This is worms, can you see it coming out right there?

Later, with hand dried off, she digs at a piece of dried skin at the edge of a wound – the unsaid implication being that this is the same thing.

The footage then cuts to her plucking off another piece of lemon pulp from a different region of unbroken lemon soaked skin.

The piece continues:

[She] has seen countless doctors, but her symptoms are getting worse.

“To be diagnosed by doctor after doctor as being delusional, it’s beyond frustrating,” she said.

I’m sure it is very frustrating, and I feel very sorry for her. However, little white moths are not flying out of her lesions. The “worms” are lemon pulp. I don’t know anything about her other symptoms, or her skin condition, which may well be related to a real medical condition, but in this regard, she holds a mistaken belief.

If countless doctors are telling someone the same thing, over and over, then is there not a chance that the doctors are right?

Despite the title of the piece, there is no questioning on the part of KFMB. They totally accept this woman’s story. Presenting her as a rational person who simply has worms coming out of her skin and is being ignored by countless doctors. They totally ignore the very obvious fact that there are no worms, and that all they are seeing is lemon pulp.

The following CBS11 report suggests that a “dramatic new breakthrough” in the field of Morgellons was revealed at the recent Morgellons conference:

There may be a dramatic new breakthrough for hundreds of Texans who suffer from a mysterious disease. CBS 11 News was the only station at a medical conference that uncovered new research in the fight to prove Morgellons Disease is real.
In 2007, Dr. Stricker and experts in agrobacterium studied skin samples from seven Morgellons patients and found the DNA from the bacteria in all seven samples. Now the question is, how are people getting the bacteria in their bodies.

Firstly, this is not new, it’s over a year old. These findings were reported in January, 2007 – over a year ago.

A venous catheter, similar to those used by Stricker, and which are know to be responsible for Agrobacterium infections.Secondly, and more importantly, there is a very easy explanation as to how the bacteria got in their bodies: catheters. It’s very simple, and hinges upon three facts:

  1. The most common cause of agrobacterium infection is from intravenous catheters.
  2. Dr. Stricker uses intravenous catheters to treat his Morgellons and late-stage Lyme patients.
  3. Dr. Stricker supplied the samples used to test for agrobacterium

It seems then that these agrobacterium infections may not be a part of Morgellons, but are more likely a result of Dr. Strickers’ treatment methods.

(EDIT: See Dr Smith’s response, in the comments section).


Dr Smith says:

In these patients, agrobacterium was NOT cultured from the patients’ body. The DNA was detected by PCR testing in Dr. Vitaly Citovsky’s lab at StonyBrook. The samples submitted were skin biopsy specimens done on out-patients in the course of routine offiice visits. The patients were not acutely ill at the time and none had an in-dwelling catheter at the time. It is my understanding that 7 of 7 patients with Morgellons tested positive for agrobacterium and 0 of control patients were positive.

Let’s assume that is accurate, and see what other reasons there could be for this group of patients to have Agrobacterium in their skin samples.

First let’s ask what the difference is between the “Morgellons” patients and the control patients. From the Morgellons case definition:

3. Skin lesions, both (a) spontaneously appearing and (b) self-generated, often with pain or intense itching. The former (a) may initially appear as “hive-like”, or as “pimple-like” with or without a white center. The latter (b) appear as linear or “picking” excoriations.

“Self-generated” here means that the patient generates their own lesions by scratching and picking. The medical term for this is Neurotic Excoriations. There is a remarkable similarity between the lesions of patients with Neurotic Excoriations, and many (but not all) patients who claim to have Morgellons.

The control subjects were healthy individuals (lab workers), who did NOT have Neurotic Excoriations.

Hence another possible explanation for this study is that people with Neurotic Excoriations are greatly more susceptible to Agrobacterium infection (especially in the skin), than the general population. This seems very reasonable, as for the lesions to be “self-generated”, it would take constant repeditive scratching for many months. Fingernails get dirt under them. Dirt harbors agrobacterium. The scratching transfers agrobacterium to the skin.

Correlation does not imply causation. The presence of agrobacterium in a group of seven, while being absent in a control group, is statistically significant enough to warrant investigation. The presence of agrobacterium is likely indicative of some factor that the seven patients shared. I’ve given two possible shared factors here: 1) They were all patients of Dr. Stricker, and 2) They scratch their skin far more than is healthy. It is not hard to come up with other commonalities, such as the unusual use of certain medications prescribed by Stricker, or even the equipment and envirionment used to collect the samples.

This post is a response to claims of a “dramatic new breakthrough”, and I simply hope to point out that this is no such thing, but simply a statistically interesting observation that currently indicates absolutly nothing, but perhaps warrants further study.

Indeed it may well turn out that Agrobacterium IS a common infection in patients with Neurotic Excoriations, and this may be a previously undiscovered common complication, which doctors can then treat. Meaning it could actually be a useful breakthrough, but not directly to do with the assertion that Morgellons is a distinct disease.

Here’s an interesting article that illustrates some of what I was discussing in the previous post.

The problem is, McSweegan makes no mention of underlying physical conditions, which again sweeps the whole situation into the false dichotomy of “delusion or disease”.

A patient is quoted as saying “I was feeling things moving under my skin”, and then the gist of the article is that they were imagining it. When actually formication is a real physical symptom triggered by various physical circumstances from Meth to Menopause.

So while McSweegan characterizes the circumstances of Morgellons fairly well, he’s not telling the whole story, and he is reinforcing a polarization that inhibits communication.

Here’s the best report I’ve seen so far on Morgellons:

It’s a seven minute video, and a refreshing change from the brief alarmist segments we’ve seen so far on local TV. It actually presents a very balanced look at the problem, and is well worth a view.

In the accompanying text there is a telling quote from Professor Wymore:

“I entered Morgellons research as a skeptic and have come to understand it as a multi-system disease of unknown cause. Morgellons is off-handedly discounted by many public-health officials and physicians who ignore physical and neurological symptoms — and, instead, label sufferers as delusional without looking at their skin.

If medical professionals would employ a simple diagnostic tool, such as a dermatoscope, they would see microscopic fibers under unbroken, non-scarred skin as my Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences colleagues and I have seen. OSU-CHS researchers have evaluated fibers and material collected by clinical faculty, healthcare providers and patients.”

Wymore seems stuck in a bit of a mental rut, saying the same thing over and over without really stopping to consider the implications of what he is saying.

Supposedly there are over 5000 people with “Morgellons”. They usually report having gone to many doctors, usually in double figures. That’s over 50,000 doctor visits.

What Wymore is saying that that out of those 50,000 visits, they have all been “off-handedly discounted … without looking at their skin”.

Just consider for a moment the implications here. Out of 50,000 docotor visits nobody has noticed that there are fibers growing under the skin? Out of 50,000 doctor visits, including thousands of dermatology visits, nobody looked at the skin of people with obvious skin problems?

Clearly these patients have had their skin examined several times by many doctors. The doctors diagnosed whatever the skin conditions were, and if they saw fibers they did not look suspicious, as it’s perfectly normal to have fibers in your lesions.

Wymore should put up or shut up. He claims to be 100% convinced, and has claimed this for many months. He is a scientist, so he must be basing this on observable evidence. So far all he has produced is a few anecdotes and a couple of unidentified inorganic fibers. If the evidence is as plain and convincing as he claims, then what exactly is the problem in producing this evidence?

Professor Wymore, what would be more productive: performing PCR on bits of lint for several months, or showing your evidence to a few dermatologists and getting the medical community on your side? I suspect that deep inside you really know the score. You are just more comfortable doing your meaningless tests, and being a hero to a sick community.

What would Barry Marshall do?

Oh dear, it looks like Fox News took my script, and had a hollywood screenwriter make it more interesting:

Mysterious Condition Finally Acknowledged!”, they say, which is a total misunderstanding. I’ll repeat what I said earlier:

The CDC is investigating why there seems to be an increase in the number of people reporting symptoms that look like DOP. Maybe there is an actual increase in cases due to some environmental cause (like pollution or fiberglass) or infectious agent (like MRSA), or it’s just a demographic shift with baby boomers hitting menopause, or maybe it’s an illusory increase, focussed by the media’s coverage of Morgellons, or maybe it’s magnified by the internet’s villagification of the world. Maybe a combination.

If you are new here, and really want to know what the medical community feels about Morgellons, read this link:

Or this one, if you really want to get into details:

Finally, I don’t want to pick on the people in the video, they are suffering enough. But really Fox, what was with that close up of the woman picking at her lip. The “white specks” which she claimed were emerging fibers looked just like dry skin peeling off her lip.

This is unprofessional scaremongering, which is HURTING PEOPLE. Fox should be ashamed. I only hope that the recent OJ reversal might prompt them to have a degree more oversight in the future.

[Addendum: Nov 23 2006]

I watched the video again, and one thing that grated was Professor Wymore again relating the story of how someone suggested that fibers might be getting under the skin by people injecting their skin with fibers in a saline solution mixed in a syringe. The way he says it suggests that’s the only explanation that has been offered by doctors.

Are thousands of people injecting themselves with fibers? Of course not! That is just ridiculous, and nobody is suggesting otherwise. And for anyone reading who thinks they have Morgellons, I’m not suggesting you did it either.

But might a few people be doing something like this? Is Wymore’s total rejection of this theory justified? It actually turns out that there are many well documented cases of people injecting themselves with things in order to get medical attention. People even inject their children with things, things much worse than fibers.

I’m not suggesting that Morgellons is caused by people injecting themselves with fibers! I’m just disappointed in Professor Wymore’s portrayal of a false dicotomy – for him it’s either a bizzare mind blowing disease new to science, or people are injecting fibers under their skin. Wymore takes the former, since he’s staked his reputation on it being true. Occam, if pressed, would take the latter, since it’s something known to happen. It explains a few cases, but don’t forget hot tubs, and menopause.

Mom Accused Of Injecting Human Waste Into Daughter
Test Results Show IV Fluid Contained Substance Consistent With Fecal Matter
Mother Charged with Injecting Fecal matter into Toddler Son
McMullen is a former nurse at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children. She is accused of deliberately injecting fecal matter into her son, causing the toddler to be hospitalized numerous times.
Occasionally, patients with Munchausen’s syndrome inject their knees to produce swelling, ingest agents to distort their laboratory findings, rub irritants on their skin to produce rashes, or wear splints or braces unnecessarily.
A woman presented to our emergency center after self-injection of human chorionic gonadotropin in an attempt to gain admission to the hospital.
The patient presented with bleeding from various sites; repeated subcutaneous emphysema of the face, orbit and upper chest; ulcers on the tongue, and dermatitis autogenica. The illness was confirmed to be factitious and self-induced when she was caught red-handed trying to inject air.
We report herein a male patient displaying factitious disease of the breast due to injection of a high viscosity liquid plastic material. RESULTS: Establishment of the proper diagnosis was greatly delayed due to a lack of suspicion of this entity. Only direct confrontation of the patient with the biopsy results (lipogranulomatosis) led to a reluctant and then only partial admission of the self-induced nature of this patient’s illness.

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