New Disease? Paranoia? Can Kaiser Find Out?

A couple years ago, news began to surface about a strange skin disease called Morgellons in which patients experience bug-crawling sensations, unexplained sores, and weird filament-like threads protruding from their skin. One particularly frightening article in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that the disease – which hasn’t been officially identified or recognized by doctors – is especially prevalent among Bay Area residents. The Morgellons Research Foundation, the main web site and organization which was started by a South Carolinan mom whose three children came down with the mystery skin disease and who coined the Morgellons name from a 1674 medical study, currently has 11,059 registered families who believe they, too, have Morgellons. But doctors, and some individuals, dispute these symptoms. Some physicians believe they’re cases of delusional parasitosis, a psychosis in which people believe they are infected with parasites. Morgellons Watch takes the Occam’s razor approach – believing the fibers are simply cotton, sores the result of obsessive scratching, and the prevalence in the Bay Area due to excessive media coverage. (Doh.)

In any case, the rising number of cases has prompted the Centers of Disease Control to give Kaiser Permanente $338,000 to test and interview patients in a one-year study to better understand the condition and determine its prevalence. The study, which starts immediately, will involve patients from the Bay Area and beyond who’ve visited Kaiser and complained of Morgellons-like symptoms. According to the San Jose Mercury News, that could be as many as 150 to 500 people.


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