Morgellons Disease is a condition where sufferers claim that mysterious fibers grow out of sores in their skin. Most medical professionals claim it’s a delusional disorder, but an increasing body of work says these fibers may be a legitimate offshoot of Lyme Disease. So is Morgellons real, or just really crazy?
What Is Morgellons Disease?
Defining Morgellons depends on who you ask and whether they believe it’s a legitimate physical disorder rather than a mental disorder.
According to the Charles E. Holman Morgellons Disease Foundation, which treats Morgellons as a real disease, there are six telltale signs of Morgellons:
1. Skin lesions that spontaneously appear and are intensely itchy.
2. Crawling sensations, either on the skin’s surface or beneath it. The sensation is akin to people undergoing drug withdrawal who feel bugs crawling under their skin.
3. Intense fatigue that interferes with day-to-day activity and productivity.
4. Memory loss and other cognitive difficulties that some sufferers have described as a “brain fog.”
5. Resultant mental illnesses such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Attention Deficit Disorder.
6. The perception of mysterious fibers arising from the skin lesions. These fibers are too small to be perceived under the naked eye but when magnified resemble sewing thread.
The condition is described as pure torture, and sufferers are often driven to extreme measures in an attempt to counteract it. They will drink Borax or insecticides or dewormers made for large animals in an attempt to drive the perceived infestation from their bodies. They will run sound waves over their feet or inject liquid nitrogen into affected areas.
Over 12,000 people worldwide claim to suffer the symptoms from this unofficial disorder that the medical industry has yet to officially recognize. The most famous of these is 1970s singer Joni Mitchell, who has claimed the following:
I have this weird, incurable disease that seems like it’s from outer space. Fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: They cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral.
How Morgellons Got Its Name
In 2001, a mother and biologist named Mary Leitao took her toddler son to the doctor due to his recurring lip sores. The boy had been complaining that bugs were crawling under his skin. After eight visits to eight different doctors, no one had any other explanation besides suggesting that Mary was mentally ill and was using her son as a prop to gain attention.
Mary was undeterred, however. She named the disease “Morgellons” after a treatise written in the 1600s by an English physician named Thomas Browne who described a mystery illness affecting children:
…that Endemial Distemper of little Children in Languedock, called the Morgellons, wherein they critically break out with harsh hairs on their Backs, which takes off the unquiet Symptoms of the Disease, and delivers them from Coughs and Convulsions.
Leitao started the Morgellons Research Foundation in 2002. The foundation served as a networking hub for other people who felt they had the same illness; in 2014 the foundation shut down and all further inquiries were directed to Oklahoma State University.
Most Medical Authorities Consider It A Delusional Illness
Due mostly to the efforts of the Morgellons Research Foundation, serious medical entities were forced to take a sober look at this disorder.
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control, after investigating 115 patients who claimed to suffer from the illness, released a study called ““Clinical, Epidemiologic, Histopathologic and Molecular Features of an Unexplained Dermopathy.” Their conclusion was as follows:
We were not able to conclude based on this study whether this unexplained dermopathy represents a new condition . . . or wider recognition of an existing condition such as delusional infestation.
The CDC also claimed that the mystery “fibers” were mainly cotton strands from clothing that had become embedded in open skin lesions.
The official medical term for people who mistakenly believe bugs or worms are crawling under their skin is “delusional parasitosis,” and it is this affliction that most of the legitimate medical community believes characterizes Morgellons patients.
According to sociologist Robert Bartholomew, Morgellons is actually a form of mass panic enabled by the Internet:
World Wide Web has become the incubator for mass delusion and it (Morgellons) seems to be a socially transmitted disease over the Internet.
Accordingly, most medical authorities who encounter patients who claim they have Morgellons are likely to prescribe antipsychotic medicines and behavioral therapy rather than approaching it as a real illness.
Are Those Mysterious Fibers Somehow Linked To Lyme Disease?
Despite the official opposition, medical researchers appear to be making inroads in studying Morgellons.
One recent study concluded that a whopping 98% of patients who identify with Morgellons have also tested positive for Lyme disease or other tickborne illnesses. The bacteria that is associated with Lyme disease, Borrelia, is often found in Morgellons patients as well.
Other studies on the fibers themselves have concluded that rather than being textile strands, they are in fact human biofibers composed of keratin and collagen generated by the body as an autoimmune response to tickborne illnesses.
According to medical researcher Melissa Fesler:
Morgellons is not a mystery. A plausible explanation is supported by scientific evidence. The fibers are human structural proteins. It results from an aberrant response to the presence of tickborne pathogens.
For now, the jury is out on Morgellons.
Is it a terrifying mental illness that causes its sufferers to lose their minds over a delusion that fibers are growing out of their skin?
Or is it a terrifying skin infection that causes sufferers to lose their minds because the world thinks they’re delusional?
And when all is said and done, which option is more terrifying?