Morgellons Rare Disease of the 21st Century

The purpose of this blog is to accurately inform readers about health issues, how to improve health and prevent disease, and occasionally to simply to raise awareness about issues that may affect them, their family and friends.  This is one of those articles where we have chosen to make our readers aware of a disease related puzzle.   The information is presented not as fact, but to inform, to share an awareness about a little understood disease that questions not only our knowledge of disease processes but attitudes toward disease discovery.   We ask that you read this article, and make your own decisions about Morgellons Disease.

Morgellons Disease

Morgellons Disease (or Morgellons Syndrome) is a controversial disease which exhibits disfiguring sores and crawling sensations on and under the skin.  It also features multicoloured fibers of solid material that originate from these sores.

The disease was so named in 2002 by Mary Leitao, who’s 2 year old son was afflicted by this strange syndrome.   At the time she was described as a stay-at-home-mom, but prior to 2002 was a medical researcher for five years at two Boston hospitals and her husband happens to be an internist (Dr. Edward Leitao) with South Allegheny Internal Medicine in Pennsylvania.    The name Morgellons was after an obscure 17th century French reference to black hairs and so it received its name in March 2004.  It should also be mentioned that it wasn’t enough that her 2 year old contracted this bizarre disease that no one accepted as a real pathology, but later her two older, teenage children started to display the same symptoms.  And to add to her burdens, her husband the internist passed away suddenly at  54 years old.

Fortunately for Mary Leitao, Dr. Randy Wymore, the assistant professor in pharmacology and physiology from Oklahoma State University stumbled on Ms. Leitao’s Web site while surfing online.  Fortunately for Ms. Leitao,  Dr. Wymore is described as a “glutton for unknowns”.   She had created the website as part of her work to establish the Morgellons Research Foundation, which was devoted to the new disease, a nonprofit group headquartered in her own home.   Despite his scepticism, he decided to help Ms. Leitao to find some answers to this puzzling disease.

It is considered a fairly rare disease that has the largest occurrence in middle age women in California, Texas, and Florida, but cases have been reported in all 50 states, as well as in various countries around the globe.   In fact, in Russia the disease has gained epidemic proportions and as recent as February 2012, is totally ignored by the state.   Because of the prevalence of Morgellons Disease in states with large areas of coastline and warm weather, there is some support to the theory that the causative agent might be waterborne but no definitive answers have been discovered.  Other findings are that there is a high percentage within the sample group that have tick-borne diseases, with about 50% showing symptoms of chronic Lyme Disease or testing positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative organism for Lyme Disease.

Skin lesions are found mainly on forearms, back, chest, face, and lower legs.  Common signs and symptoms include:

  • spontaneous skin rashes and sores
  • intense itching
  • crawling sensation under the skin
  • fibers, threads, or black stringy material in and/or on the skin which are highly resistant to extraction
  • severe fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • short-term memory loss

Upon analysis of the thread like fibers they are often found to not resemble any man-made material, and are virtually indestructible by chemical and heat means.   There is strong suggestion that the fibers are biological in origin but source organism is yet to be identified.

To diagnosis Morgellons disease, a physical examination is required, and various lab tests maybe performed including a skin biopsy.    Many dermatologists consider the condition to be the same as delusional parasitosis and treat using atypical anti-psychotics such as olanzepine or respiridone.  Although this diagnosis may be appropriate for some of the cases presented, there is no consistent evidence to suggest that all the reported cases are this.

The Morgellons research foundation no longer exists but research efforts continue to be organized by Dr. Randy Wymore, at Oklahoma State University.    There is conflicting information, diverse symptoms experience and no definitive cause of the disease.

The suffering of these patients is real, which means there is still much to be done to properly identify the cause and more importantly, the proper treatment of this puzzling 21st Century disease.

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