Not heard of Morgellons disease? Neither had we. In fact, it rarely makes headlines, because not only is it incredibly rare, there is also much debate about whether it is a real, bona fide medical condition at all.
Often dubbed a “mystery” illness, it is not a recognised disease in the UK, and because of the symptoms (more of which later), many medical professionals consider it a form of psychosis or ‘delusional parasitosis’ brought on by anxiety.
However, with the recent collapse of singer Joni Mitchell, who was found unconscious on the floor of her home in LA in March, interest in Morgellons has spiked.
The Canadian musician is perhaps the most high profile sufferer, telling the Los Angeles Times in 2010: "Fibres in a variety of colours protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral."
She also admitted the disease feels as though she is being “eaten alive” by bugs crawling around under her skin.
With conflicting evidence and a lack of research though, it’s tough to dig down to the truth of the matter, so here’s our guide to the condition:
What is Morgellons?
“Some health professionals believe that the condition is a disease specific physical condition that needs to be confirmed by research to find the most appropriate course of treatment which may include treatment with specific oral and topical antibiotics,” explains Anjana Odedra MRPharmS, clinic manager and pharmacist at The Smart Clinics.
“Other health care professionals believe that the signs and symptoms of Morgellons disease are caused by a primary condition that is attributable to a mental illness.”
Morgellons UK is adamant that “there are primary, physical manifestations” that should not be ignored: “Morgellons sufferers have thread-like filaments appearing from skin sores and/or unbroken skin, which can be the cause of much discomfort and itching.
“Unfortunately, Morgellons patients are often given a clinical misdiagnosis of delusional parasitosis or obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
The majority of medical professions disagree
“I don’t think it’s an illness per se,” says Dr Lars Davidsson, medical director at the Anglo European Clinic. “Some people have thoughts of being infested with parasites of different kinds, and these parasites, one way or another create fibres. This still falls within the context of a delusional disorder.”
What are the symptoms of Morgellons?
Most sufferers claim to have painfully itchy skin, red rashes, sores and lesions, the sensation of small creatures biting, crawling and eating away beneath the surface of their skin, chronic fatigue and multicoloured fibrous material, and white granules, being ejected from pores.
These fibres are often thought to come from clothing fabric or a build up of cellulose.
Some also believe they have an irregular heartbeat, digestive problems, weak and aching bones, depression and insomnia, however, self-diagnosis is rife, particularly amongst the largest group to struggle with the condition, white middle aged women.
How does it affect day to day life?
Constant anxiety, discomfort and obsessive behaviours all lead to an increasingly miserable situation for sufferers. Regardless which side of the real/not real fence you fall on, what is obvious is that people who believe they have Morgellons are in real, debilitating pain.
Davidsson says: “People are really suffering, they are trying to catch these parasites they think are under their skin, by rather rough means, and they are causing damage to their skin.”
How can Morgellons be treated?
Morgellons UK suggest a range of cleansing and exfoliating skin regimes as well as a healthy diet, but some internet forums have suggested potentially deadly treatments, such as bleaching skin, using industrial insecticides and veterinary medication, while some doctors opt to dole out antibiotics and even scabies medication.
Whether the condition is physical or psychological, Davidsson is clear: “You should start by going and seeing your GP, and the GP might feel you should see a psychiatrist, then they would make a referral.”
He adds: “I would say the kinds of treatment that would apply to this condition would be a combination of psychological intervention and elective medication, and possibly CBT treatment to modify the thoughts around it and to achieve better coping skills and better coping methods.”
To find out more, visit Morgellons UK