It’s a terrifying nightmare most of us have only heard of in psych class: people become convinced there are bugs on and underneath their skin, and some people take action by mutilating themselves. Experiencing creepy crawlies running amok on one’s body or underneath one’s skin is not a rare delusion, but actually finding something under these patients’ skin is.
Sir Thomas Brown reported in 1674 the “Morgellons,” a number of pediatric cases where patients reported something moving underneath their skin. Openings in their epidermis revealed the presence of unusually thick dermal fibers. Ordinary proteinaceous dermal fibers are microscopic in scale. In 2002 Mary Leitao proposed a definition for Morgellon’s disease, though the medical community today has yet to accept a formal definition.
In addition to the unusual presence of thick dermal fibers, Morgellon’s disease as defined by the Morgellon’s Research Foundation also presents with spontaneous skin lesions, change in skin pigmentation, and textured patches on the skin. Informally dubbed Bugs-under-the-skin-disease, Morgellon’s patients often suffer a host of mental disorders including emotional instability and bipolar disorder.
There is controversy concerning the cause of the disease. Preliminary data from State University of New York-Stony Brook and the Morgellon’s Research Foundation suggest Agrobacterium, a plant bacteria, may be a causative agent. A published case of successful treatment of Morgellon’s using olanzapine, a psychiatric drug, suggests that Morgellon’s is psychiatric and possibly in part psychosomatic. In some cases, Morgellon’s patients have elevated inflammatory, immunodeficiency markers, and abnormal red blood cells.
CDC researchers published findings of a multiyear study in January 2012 that they did not any disease organisms in Morgellon’s patients’ blood. Instead they postulated that the fibers are ordinary clothing fibers and patients suffer a form of delusional parasitosis, a psychosis in which patients report parasitic infestation despite lack of medical evidence.
Following is a description of symptoms from the Morgellon’s Research Foundation:
The first noticeable symptom of what is termed Morgellons may be a sore at a corner of the mouth or in the nostril that cracks and (seems to) bleed. It may have a scab-like “skin” that itches and begs to be peeled off, however, the sore takes a long time to heal or never heals, continuing to generate the scab-like skin. This eruption may also enlarge and may be surrounded by redness and swelling.
Near the eruption may be noticed stiff filaments or hairs that are blunt-ended, unlike actual hair that has a pointed tip. Also, if the filaments/hairs are plucked, the base may be black and resinous and very sticky, unlike a healthy hair root; clear and tear-shaped. Alternatively, there may be very fine clear or white filaments/hairs that resemble fiber-optic plastic in their luminosity.
As the fungal-like “skin” is peeled from any lesion, the underlying tissue may be infested with a white-to-yellow sticky slime. If the slime is carefully tweezed from each pore, the tissue resembles raw hamburger and is extremely painful.