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
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>.▪