Reports by individuals and physicians of an unexplained skin problem commonly referred to as Morgellons prompted an investigation by researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine whether a new condition had emerged. The CDC researchers, who said they had conducted the most comprehensive and first population-based study of Morgellons, reported that they could not determine whether this unexplained constellation of symptoms represented a new condition or was just “wider recognition of an existing condition such as delusional infestation.”
People who identify themselves as having the condition typically report poorly healing or nonhealing skin lesions; the emergence of fibers or materials from the skin; and sensations such as stinging, biting, or bugs crawling on or just under the skin. These individuals also sometimes report generalized fatigue, difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, and depressed mood. Reports suggest that individuals with the condition have experienced substantial declines in quality of life, including social disruption and isolation, decreased work productivity or job loss, and total disability.
The researchers, whose findings were published online this week in PLoS ONE, looked at 109 patients enrolled in Kaiser Permanente of Northern California during July 2006 through June 2008 who reported symptoms associated with Morgellons. The researchers collected detailed epidemiologic, clinical, and laboratory data to better characterize the features of Morgellons. They found the condition was extremely rare, occurring in less than 1 in 25 000 people, and predominately affected middle-aged white women. The researchers also found no common underlying medical condition or infectious source for the condition, nor did they find an environmental link.
The researchers noted a wide range of skin lesions, with about 40% having features compatible with chronic rubbing without evidence of an underlying cause. Performing detailed spectral and molecular analysis, the researchers determined that the materials emerging from the skin were largely consistent with skin fragments or fibers such as cotton, suggesting they came from clothing.