One of the most enigmatic disease to have emerged in recent times is a little-known and little-understood condition named Morgellons disease. While humans have been battling strange ailments of all kinds for centuries, Morgellons is a relatively new addition to the pantheon of human afflictions, arriving fully-formed in the 21st century. It was discovered in 2001 by a concerned mother and biologist called Mary Leitao, whose young son developed sores under his lip and started complaining of ‘bugs’. When numerous doctors declared that there was nothing wrong with the child, despite his condition worsening, and instead started questioning Leitao’s mental stability, she took matters into her own hands by christening the disease Morgellons and setting up a Morgellons Research Foundation to aid other sufferers.
Right from the beginning, the disease and its diagnosis were clouded by scepticism, disbelief and accusations of mental imbalance. Unfortunately for Morgellons sufferers all over the world, nothing much has changed in the intervening 17 years. One of the reasons for this is that the symptoms of Morgellons are so bizarre that they seem to defy medical diagnosis. The disease is characterised by ulcerative skin lesions that can form anywhere on the body, and are exceptionally slow to heal. These lesions can cause extreme itching and pain for the patient, often described as bug-like sensations just below the skin, leading them to scratch the open sores and further prevent the healing cycle. The other definitive diagnostic test for Morgellons is the presence of fibers or filaments within the lesions, which are sometimes visible to the naked eye but usually require a dermascope with magnification. The fibers are predominantly coloured white, blue and red.
While this might seem like a pretty definitive and unmistakable symptom, Morgellons has consistently been written off as delusional parasitosis and a prime example of mass hysteria by medical professionals. The former disorder is a mental condition where the patient believes they’ve been infected by bugs, leading to crawling and itching sensations which cause the patient to scratch obsessively, opening up sores on their skin. The strange fibers were explained away as stray strands of clothing which has become stuck in the open sores. Despite this shutout by the medical community at large, Leitao’s efforts surrounding the disease spread far and wide thanks to the internet, leading to many patients coming forward from all over the world. The diagnosis of delusional parasitosis simply didn’t satisfy these sufferers, who knew their symptoms inside out and were convinced they suffered from a genuine condition.
This momentum culminated in 2006 when the Centers for Disease Control (or CDC for short) decided to commission an in-depth study into the condition, which took three years and over half a million dollars. Unfortunately for Morgellons advocates, when the results were published in 2012, the opinion of the CDC was that there was no ‘common underlying condition’, effectively certifying the fact that Morgellons was a myth. This was a major blow to Morgellons sufferers around the world and caused Leitao to disappear from the public eye, adding further fuel to the delusional fire. Upon closer inspection however, the CDC’s study is revealed to be flawed, largely thanks to a misunderstanding of the nature of the disease in the first place. There was also a significant amount of selection bias when it came to the participants in the study, dissuaded participation of some patients, ignored clinical and laboratory evidence of Morgellons, and most importantly, the selection and testing of the wrong specimens.
The key to Morgellons is the strange fibers which form inside the patient’s sores. No other known disease produces symptoms like this; therefore they should be the primary focus of testing. It’s obvious that pieces of clothing fiber would become attached to patient’s sores as they go about their lives, but these are entirely different in nature to the inherent fibers formed by progressive Morgellons. The CDC survey did not take this into account, and instead focused only on superficial fibers located loosely around the patients’ sores.
In-depth research has in fact deduced that these bizarre fibers are chemically and physically consistent with naturally forming keratin and collagen, and stem from epithelial cells in the skin and hair follicles. The different colours of the fibers are formed by various compounds of proteins, keratin and collagen, and their structure is hair-like. When studying Morgellons patients, it’s imperative that these samples are taken from fibers embedded in the skin, as opposed to environmental fibers which may appear naturally around the lesions and sores. This is the key criteria that the CDC study failed to take into account when they embarked on their ultimately flawed study. Though their study was built on unsound foundations, it still managed to strike a huge blow to Morgellons sufferers everywhere, setting the legitimisation of the condition back many years.
Despite this setback, many are still convinced that Morgellons is all too real; patients and doctors alike continue to work tirelessly to prove it. One example is The Charles E. Holman Foundation, a grassroots activist organisation that aims to educate people about Morgellons Disease via research, education, diagnosis and treatment. Recent research has suggested that Morgellons disease is a dermatological condition rather than an infection in and of itself, and the underlying infection needs to be determined before treatment can begin. Lyme Disease is a similar, little-understood condition, which has been linked to Morgellons symptoms, and many specialists now consider Morgellons to be a chronic, cutaneous form of Borrelia infection (Lyme Disease). Make Well have been helping patients fight back against Lyme with the help of their natural, herbal supplements, and have now expanded their range to include Morgellons, with their new product MRG Derm. This is a valuable option for patients who’ve been much-maligned by the medical community at large, and represents a leap forward in the legitimisation of the little-understood, but hopefully increasingly recognised condition called Morgellons.