Professional News
Multidisciplinary Team to Study Controversial Skin Disorder
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 7 page 17-17

During the past several years, a mysterious skin disease called morgellons has attracted national attention. Patients with it report unusual dermatological symptoms, cognitive impairments, mood disturbances, and sometimes paranoia and suicide attempts in later stages of the illness (see Psychiatry, Dermatology Need Meeting of Minds for more on research involving psychiatric and dermataological illnesses.) Case reports and conjecture by some psychiatrists, dermatologists, and researchers suggest that morgellons may be a delusional parasitosis, the result of Lyme disease, or perhaps the result of another infectious agent (Psychiatric News, December 15, 2006). "Whatever morgellons is, it is something very different and unique and should be considered a condition needing further study," Robert Bransfield, M.D., a Red Bank, N.J., psychiatrist, asserted in a June 1, 2007, letter to Psychiatric News.

Such a study is now being launched, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on january 16. It was designed by the CDC with the help of a multidisciplinary task force of experts in infectious diseases, chronic diseases, environmental health, pathology, epidemiology, and mental health. It is headed by CDC medical epidemiologist Michele Pearson, M.D., and is being funded by the CDC. In addition, pathologists at the armed Forces Pathology Institute will assist in the study, as will researchers at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, an HMO.

Subjects for the study will, for a couple of reasons, be drawn from Kaiser Permanente Northern California's membership base. First, numerous cases of morgellons have been reported in Northern California, so Kaiser Permanente Northern California's membership undoubtedly includes a number of people with morgellons. Second, the HMO maintains electronic medical records for all its members; thus these records should make it easy for the investigators to identify members who have morgellons and who might be willing to participate in the study.

Once subjects have been recruited for the study, detailed information will be collected about them and their condition. They will also undergo a general medical examination, mental health examination, dermatologic examination, skin biopsies, and blood tests.

In addition to getting a much better idea of how many people have morgellons, researchers participating in the study hope to learn more about the kinds of people affected, the symptoms they experience, and factors that may contribute to their illness.

"We earnestly want to learn more about this unexplained illness, which impacts the lives of those who suffer from it," Pearson said in a press statement. "Those who suffer have questions, and we want to help them."

The study may take a year or longer to complete. Results will be published in either the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report or in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

More details about the CDC study are posted at<www.cdc.gov/unexplaineddermopathy>.

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