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Friday, July 12, 2013

Morgellons: Official Research and Findings

Numerous months ago I signed up for DovePress, a website for clinical publications and findings.  Today, while reviewing a current research article that was just released to the public, I noted in the website's sidebar, a section for most viewed articles.  And, the following, extracted from the site, is the number one read/viewed article.  While from May, 2010, it most likely remains the most current defining research on Morgellons, and is a MUST READ.  Sorry the cut-and-paste quality is so poor, but the original was in PDF.  You can sign up at the DovePress website if you'd like to view the article and others in their original form.

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Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology
67
O R I G I N A L R E S E A R C H
open access to scientific and medical research
Open Access Full Text Article
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9520
Morgellons disease: Analysis of a population
with clinically confirmed microscopic
subcutaneous fibers of unknown etiology
Virginia R Savely1
Raphael B Stricker2
1TBD Medical Associates, San
Francisco, CA, USA; 2International
Lyme and Associated Diseases Society,
Bethesda, MD, USA
Correspondence: Raphael B Stricker
450 Sutter Street, Suite 1504,
San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
Tel +1 415 399 1035
Fax +1 415 399 1057
Email rstricker@usmamed.com
Background: Morgellons disease is a controversial illness in which patients complain of
stinging,
burning, and biting sensations under the skin. Unusual subcutaneous fibers are the
unique objective finding. The etiology of Morgellons disease is unknown, and diagnostic criteria
have yet to be established. Our goal was to identify prevalent symptoms in patients with
clinically confirmed subcutaneous fibers in order to develop a case definition for Morgellons
disease.
Methods: Patients with subcutaneous fibers observed on physical examination (designated
as the fiber group) were evaluated using a data extraction tool that measured clinical and
demographic characteristics. The prevalence of symptoms common to the fiber group was
then compared with the prevalence of these symptoms in patients with Lyme disease and no
complaints of skin fibers.
Results: The fiber group consisted of 122 patients. Significant findings in this group were
an association with tick-borne diseases and hypothyroidism, high numbers from two states
(Texas and California), high prevalence in middle-aged Caucasian women, and an increased
prevalence of smoking and substance abuse. Although depression was noted in 29% of the
fiber patients, pre-existing delusional disease was not reported. After adjusting for nonspecific
symptoms, the most common symptoms reported in the fiber group were: crawling sensations
under the skin; spontaneously appearing, slow-healing lesions; hyperpigmented scars when
lesions heal; intense pruritus; seed-like objects, black specks, or “fuzz balls” in lesions or on
intact skin; fine, thread-like fibers of varying colors in lesions and intact skin; lesions containing
thick, tough, translucent fibers that are highly resistant to extraction; and a sensation of
something trying to penetrate the skin from the inside out.
Conclusions: This study of the largest clinical cohort reported to date provides the basis for
an accurate and clinically useful case definition for Morgellons disease.
Keywords: Morgellons, subcutaneous fibers, pruritus, delusions of parasitosis, Lyme disease,
skin lesions
Introduction
Morgellons disease is a poorly understood multisystem illness characterized by stinging,
biting, and crawling sensations under the skin.1 According to the Morgellons Research
Foundation (MRF) website, more than 14,000 families are reportedly affected by this
emerging disease.2 Considerable suffering occurs as thread-like fibers work their way
out of the victim’s skin causing pain, itching, and open, disfiguring lesions (Figures
1 and 2). Unfortunately, patients are often dismissed as delusional by clinicians who
are unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms of Morgellons disease.3–5 There is a scarcity
of literature on Morgellons disease due to its relatively recent description in the
68 Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology 2010:3
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modern medical literature, the reluctance on the part of the
medical community to recognize it as anything other than
psychopathology, and the lack of knowledge about its etiology
and transmission.6
The distinctive feature of Morgellons disease is the
presence
of microscopic subcutaneous fibers1 (Figures 3,
4, and 5). Observation of the skin with a lighted, handheld,
30 × to 60 × magnifier enables visualization of these
red, blue, black, and white fibers that have the appearance
of either straight hollow tubes or wiry tangled threads.1
At times the fibers are seen above the dermis as loosely
clumped “fuzz balls” or as black specks the size of coffee
grains. Examination of the black specks by electron
microscopy reveals that they consist of a tightly woven ball
of black fibers.6
Biopsies performed on Morgellons disease patients
have focused on fibrous material projecting from inflamed
epidermal tissue, and this material is often labeled as “textile
fibers” on pathologic examination.7 However, a more thorough
analysis of the fibers performed by the Federal Bureau
of Investigation forensics laboratory has revealed that the
fibers do not resemble textiles or any other manmade substance.
In fact, the fibers are virtually indestructible by heat
or chemical means, making analysis difficult by conventional
methods.6
In order to identify a homogeneous population for
research purposes, it is important to develop a clinicallybased
case definition for Morgellons disease. To this end, we
studied a group of subjects selected for a unique inclusion
criterion in order to describe demographic, comorbidity,
and symptom characteristics common to the population of
Morgellons patients.
Figure 1 Morgellons patient’s lower legs. Similar lesions covered her trunk and arms.
There were no excoriations or secondary infections. Photo courtesy of Cindy Casey,
Charles E Holman Foundation, Austin, Texas. Reproduced with permission.
Materials and methods
Design and approval
The study was conducted using a one-group, retrospective
design with one data collection episode. The Declaration of
Helsinki protocols were followed, and approval for the study
was obtained from the Case Western Reserve Institutional
Figure 2 Morgellons patient’s back. Note that lesions and scars occur in areas that
could not have been reached by the patient. Photo courtesy of Cindy Casey, Charles
E Holman Foundation, Austin, Texas. Reproduced with permission.
Figure 3 Close up of a leg lesion showing a twisted fiber just under the epidermis.
Magnification 100 ×. Photo courtesy of Cindy Casey, Charles E Holman Foundation,
Austin, Texas. Reproduced with permission.
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Review Board, Cleveland, Ohio. Written informed consent
was obtained from all study subjects for review of their
medical records, and patient anonymity and confidentiality
were strictly maintained. An epidemiologist provided input
for the study design.
Patient sample
The convenience sample included all patients seen in the
first author’s San Francisco medical office who met the
inclusion criterion. The subject inclusion criterion was a
positive examination for microscopic subcutaneous fibers as
visualized by the first author using a 60 × handheld lighted
magnifier. There were no exclusion criteria for the sample
group because the inclusion criterion was narrowly defined
to promote a homogeneous sample.
Intervening variables identified for the study were smoking,
substance abuse, immunosuppressive therapy, clinical
comorbidities, and prescription medications. These variables
had been identified in a pilot study (n = 44) that was conducted
by the first author in March of 2005 to gather preliminary
information about Morgellons disease patients.
Procedure
Five content experts reviewed and agreed upon the
demographic,
health background, and symptom data extraction
tools developed by the first author (see Appendix A). The
experts included two internists, a family practitioner, an infectious
disease specialist,
and a psychiatrist. All had clinical
experience with the diagnosis and treatment of Morgellons
disease. The experts were provided with a list of variables
to be recorded for each study subject and were asked to rate
each variable for its relevance to the illness and the study
population. The experts agreed with at least 80% consistency
regarding the degree of relevancy of each variable in the data
extraction tools for the Morgellons disease population.8
Medical records of all patients meeting the inclusion
criterion were identified by the first author. Positive serologic
testing for Borrelia burgdorferi or a high degree of suspicion
for Lyme disease was noted on the patient questionnaire in
the chart. Because Lyme disease testing is known to be insensitive,
9 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has
recommended that the diagnosis be based upon the clinical
judgement of the health care provider rather than the results
of a laboratory test. Therefore, criteria for “a high degree of
suspicion for Lyme disease” were agreed upon by a panel
of three Lyme disease specialists, and included at least five
of the following seven findings: history of tick bite and/or
“bullseye” rash; strong exposure potential in a high-risk
environment in an endemic area; an equivocal Lyme Western
blot result or the presence of bands highly specific for
B burgdorferi on an otherwise negative Western blot;10 positive
tick co-infection tests including babesiosis, ehrlichiosis,
anaplasmosis, and/or bartonellosis:11 a below-normal CD57
natural killer cell count;12 an above-normal C4a complement
protein;13 and classic Lyme disease symptoms such as joint
pain, exhaustion, and mental confusion.
A medical assistant in the first author’s office photocopied
the patient questionnaires, concealed the identities, numbered
them for identification, and provided these to the first
author. The first author then completed the data extraction
tools for each study subject using information gathered from
Figure 4 Black fibers and one red fiber, just under the epidermis of a healing lesion.
Magnification 200 ×. Photo courtesy of Cindy Casey, Charles E Holman Foundation,
Austin, Texas. Reproduced with permission.
Figure 5 Fiber under epidermis (top) and separate from a skin lesion (bottom).
Magnification 30 ×. Photo courtesy of Randy Wymore, Oklahoma State University
Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Reproduced with permission.
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these questionnaires. To validate reliability and consistency
of data extraction, a volunteer medical
assistant randomly
checked 10 data collection tools against their corresponding
questionnaires. Consistency of data extraction was verified.
The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, version 16,
was used for data analysis.
When clinical results demonstrated that 97% of the
study sample had evidence of coexisting Lyme disease,
a questionnaire about prevalent symptoms in the fiber
group was administered to 60 Lyme disease patients
who had no complaints of skin fibers. The convenience
sample of 60 volunteers was recruited by an email that
was sent to 116 of the first author’s current and former
Lyme patients. All patients who volunteered were evaluated
for symptom prevalence. Results of the Lyme group
were tabulated and, to compare the symptoms of the two
groups, a Friedman chi square analysis was performed
using GraphPad InStat Version 3.0b software (GraphPad
Software, La Jolla, CA).
Results
Patient characteristics
In the Morgellons group, the 122 subjects were predominantly
female (n = 103, 84.4%) with a mean age of 47.8 years
(SD = 12.13, range 22–85). The median age was 48.5 years
and the mode was 45 years. Subjects (n = 110) overwhelmingly
identified as white/non-Hispanic (90.2%). The only
other races represented were Hispanic (n = 8, 6.6%) and
African American (n = 4, 3.2%).
Of the 122 subjects, 23 different states of residence
were represented and one foreign nationality, the
United Kingdom. The states of residence most frequently
reported were California (n = 58, 47.5%) and Texas
(n = 24, 19.7%). There were six subjects from New York,
four from Florida and one or two subjects from other states
including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana,
Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North
Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee,
Utah, Virginia, and Washington.
The occupations of Morgellons subjects are shown
in Table 1. The majority of subjects were unemployed
(n = 54, 44.3%), including those who were homemakers,
retired, involuntarily unemployed, or on disability leave.
The next most frequent occupation (n = 15, 12.3%) was
professionals
who worked indoors, such as accountants, attorneys,
and business managers. Following close behind in frequency
were office workers, such as administrative assistants
(n = 13, 10.7%) and health care workers, including nurses and
massage therapists (n = 10, 8.2%). Other occupations represented
in smaller numbers were, in descending order, sales,
outdoor manual laborers, teachers, outdoor professionals,
indoor manual laborers, and technical workers.
Thirty-two percent (n = 39) of the sample reported
smoking cigarettes. A history of previous substance abuse
was reported by 12.3% (n = 15), but all subjects reported
being in full recovery from substance dependence at the
time of completion of their questionnaires. Five subjects
(4.1%) reported being on immunosuppressive therapy at
the time of their onset of illness. Eighteen percent (n = 22)
of subjects
indicated that at least one other family member
shared similar symptoms.
Length of symptoms at time of presentation to the clinic
ranged from one month to 624 months (52 years) with a median
length of symptoms of 18 months and mode of 39 months.
With the exception of two outliers (the subject who had been
sick for 52 years and another who had been sick for 30 years),
length of symptoms ranged from one month to 20 years.
Comorbidities
At the time of presentation to the clinic 28.7% (n = 35) of the
sample was on treatment for depression and 22.1% (n = 27)
had been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Nineteen of the
subjects (15.6%) reported problems with allergic rhinitis
and/or asthma. Other comorbidities occurring at lower rates
are noted in Table 2.
Sixty-four (52.5%) of the subjects had positive Lyme tests
by Western blot. Another 44.3% (n = 54) were highly suspect
for Lyme disease based on the presence of 5/7 of the defined
criteria for a Lyme diagnosis, as outlined in the Materials and
methods section. These results imply that 96.8% of the sample
may have been infected with B burgdorferi, the spirochetal
Table 1 Occupation of subjects at the time of presentation to
the clinic (n = 122)
Occupation Number (n)
Unemployed 54
Professional (indoor) 15
Office worker 13
Health care worker 10
Sales 9
Outdoor manual laborer 6
Teacher 6
Professional (outdoor) 4
Indoor Manual Labor 4
Technical Worker 1
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agent of Lyme disease. Positive tests for tick-borne co-infections
noted in the sample were Babesia microti or Babesia
duncani (n = 22, 18%), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (n = 13,
10.7%), Ehrlichia chaffeensis (n = 12, 9.8%), and Bartonella
henselae (n = 12, 9.8%).
The medications that subjects were taking at the time
of their questionnaire completion are listed in Table 3. Of
note is that 29.5% were on antidepressants and 20.5% were
receiving thyroid supplementation. Precipitating events
associated with the onset of symptoms are listed in Table 4.
Although a variety of precipitating events was reported,
in many cases (n = 29, 23.8%) subjects were unaware
of an association of any event with the initiation of their
symptoms. The most frequent events were, in descending
order: an infestation of biting insects such as lice or fleas
(n = 17, 13.9%); recent visit to a third world country (n =
15, 12.3%); a splinter, thorn, or dirty cut (n = 14, 11.5%);
and working in dirt or exposure to dirty water (each n =
13, 10.7%). All of these risk factors involve exposure to
unclean situations.
The diagnoses given to subjects for their presenting symptoms
are shown in Table 5. The most common diagnosis was
delusions of parasitosis (n = 55, 45.1%). Other diagnoses,
in descending order, were: scabies (n = 20, 16.4%); atopic
dermatitis (n = 15, 12.3%); impetigo (n = 12, 9.8%); stress
reaction (n = 9, 7.4%) and miscellaneous diagnoses.
Specific and nonspecific symptoms
and their frequencies
Symptoms common to the Morgellons group are shown
in Table 6. A total of 19 symptoms were reported by more
than 70% of patients in this group. Because 97% of the
study sample had probable Lyme disease, a questionnaire
about symptoms noted in the fiber group was administered
to 60 patients with Lyme disease and no complaints of skin
fibers. Although the Lyme sample was not expressly matched
with the Morgellons group, the demographics proved to be
similar. The Lyme patient sample was 87% female, 97%
white, non-Hispanic (3% Hispanic) and the age range was
16–62 years with a mean age of 43 years.
Table 7 shows the symptom prevalence in the Morgellons
and Lyme groups. Based on Friedman’s chi square analysis,
26 symptoms were shown to be significantly more common
in the patients with fibers, five symptoms were shown to be
significantly more common in the Lyme disease patients,
and five symptoms were not significantly different in the
two groups (Table 8).
Following adjustment for symptoms that were not specific
to the Morgellons group, the most common specific symptoms
shared by more than 70% of the Morgellons patients
were, in descending order of frequency: crawling sensations
under the skin; spontaneously appearing, slow-healing
Table 2 Comorbidities of subjects (n = 122)
Illness Number (n) % of sample
Lyme (+ Western Blot) 64 52.5
Lyme (high suspicion) 54 44.3
Depression 35 28.7
Hypothyroid 27 22.1
Babesiosis 22 18.0
Allergic rhinitis/asthma 19 15.6
Hypertension 14 11.5
Anaplasmosis 13 10.7
Bartonellosis 12 9.8
Ehrlichiosis 12 9.8
Fibromylagia 8 6.6
Attention deficit disorder 8 6.6
Anemia 7 5.7
Sleep disorder 7 5.7
Chronic fatigue syndrome 5 4.1
Heart disease 5 4.1
Arthritis 4 3.3
Diabetes 4 3.3
Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) 3 2.5
H pylori infection 3 2.5
Autoimmune disease 3 2.5
Table 3 Medications taken by subjects (n = 122)
Medication Number taking it % of sample
Antidepressant 36 29.5
Thyroid 25 20.5
Antihypertensive 21 17.2
Antihistamine 14 11.5
Pain medication 14 11.5
Anxiolytic 13 10.7
Statin 5 4.1
Steroid 4 3.3
Glucophage 3 2.5
Attention deficit disorder
medication
2 1.6
Anti-epileptic 2 1.6
Female hormones 2 1.6
Muscle relaxant 1 0.8
Retroviral 1 0.8
Ropinirole (restless leg
syndrome)
1 0.8
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lesions; hyperpigmented scars when lesions heal; intense
pruritus; seed-like objects emerging from skin; black specks
appearing on the skin; “fuzz balls” on intact skin; fine, threadlike
fibers of varying colors in lesions and intact skin; lesions
with thick, tough, translucent fibers that are highly resistant to
extraction; and a sensation of something trying to penetrate
the skin from the inside out.
Discussion
The primary goal of our study was to identify the most common
symptoms in patients with documented subcutaneous
fibers who were seen in a medical practice. The study sample
Table 4 Events precipitating initiation of subjects’ symptoms
(n = 122)
Event Number (n) % of sample
Unknown/not sure 29 23.8
Lice and flea infestation 17 13.9
Recent travel to third-world
country
15 12.3
Splinter, cut or thorn 14 11.5
Exposure to dirty water 13 10.7
Working in dirt 13 10.7
Life stress 7 5.7
Tick/insect bite 6 4.9
Camping 6 4.9
Post surgical 4 3.3
Animal bite 3 2.5
Post severe burn 1 0.8
Initiation of steroid therapy 1 0.8
Exposure to a person with like
symptoms
1 0.8
Table 5 Diagnoses given to study subjects prior to presentation
to first author’s clinic (n = 122)
Diagnosis Number (n) % of sample
Delusions of parasitosis 55 45.1
Scabies 20 16.4
Atopic dermatitis 15 12.3
Impetigo 12 9.8
Stress reaction 9 7.4
Neurodermatitis 5 4.1
Self-mutilation 4 3.3
Lice 4 3.3
Folliculitis 4 3.3
Obsessive-compulsive disorder 2 1.6
Fungal infection 2 1.6
Acne 1 0.8
Psoriasis 1 0.8
Table 6 Symptoms of patients with a positive exam for
subcutaneous
fibers (n = 122)
% of sample Number (n) Symptom
98 118 Crawling sensations under the
skin
95 116 Spontaneously-appearing, slowhealing
skin lesions
91 111 Fatigue that interferes with
activities of daily living
90 110 Sleep irregularities
89 109 Hyperpigmented scars when
lesions heal
87 106 Intense pruritus, even before
lesions appear
86 105 Brain fog (problems thinking,
remembering, etc.)
84 103 Seed-like objects coming out
of the skin
84 102 Black specks appearing
spontaneously on the skin
82 100 Unusual irritability
80 97 Symptoms worse when hot
79 96 “Fuzz balls” (white or blue)
on skin
78 95 Muscle pain
78 94 Joint pain
77 94 Weakness
77 94 Thin, thread-like fibers under or
protruding from skin
77 94 Symptoms worse at night
74 90 Thick, tough, difficult-to-extract,
white or clear fibers
71 87 Sensation of things poking
through skin
69 84 Feeling of hopelessness
65 79 Awareness of tiny insects flying
around head
62 75 New onset of anxiety or panic
attacks
61 74 Fibers or filaments move
60 73 Slimy film on skin
59 72 “Sand” in bed upon awakening
57 70 Brown flakes in bed upon
awakening
57 70 Fibers in mucous membranes
(mouth, nose, eyes)
57 69 Awareness of objects racing
across eyes
56 68 Soft mounds on head
56 68 Dramatic weight change
53 65 Fibers under finger and toe nails
53 65 Significant hair loss
(Continued )
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consisted primarily of middle-aged Caucasian patients, but
because the first author’s clinic does not accept insurance,
the sample may have been biased toward an upper-middle
class socioeconomic group. This in turn may have predisposed
toward Caucasian race and older, more economically
stable subjects.
The sample was predominantly female, which engenders
speculation as to the reason for this prevalence. This
finding differs from that of the MRF, which reports an
equal number of males and females in their database of
self-diagnosed Morgellons cases.2 There are other illnesses,
such as multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, and numerous
autoimmune diseases that appear to affect primarily
women. Furthermore, female predominance has been noted
in patients with persistent symptoms of Lyme disease.14
Gender differences in human disease susceptibility are usually
attributed to either physiologic or sociologic causes.
The physiologic causes are usually hormonal in origin.15
Examples of sociologic causes are different exposure to
pathogens because of gender-specific behavior and different
tendencies to present for medical care, leading to the
appearance of a skewed demographic.15 Any of these factors
are plausible in Morgellons disease.
It may seem surprising that a complaint of skin fibers
was reported by only 77% of the sample. A plausible explanation
is that the fibers typical of Morgellons disease are
microscopic, and in many cases subjects had not employed a
magnification system to visualize their skin. Of note is that
the seed-like objects and black granules reported by these
patients are visible on the surface of the skin without
the use of magnification. This fact probably explains why
these symptoms were reported more frequently than the
presence of fibers.
Of the 122 study subjects, most were from California and
Texas, possibly due to the fact that these are the two states
where the first author had lived and practised. However, the
MRF maintains that California, Texas, and Florida are the
states where Morgellons disease is most prevalent, based
upon registrants on the MRF web site.2 A common feature
shared by these states is that they have the most mileage of
coastline, prompting speculation that the putative infectious
agent of Morgellons disease could be water-borne. California
and Texas are also two of the states with the highest number
Table 6 (Continued )
% of sample Number (n) Symptom
52 63 Deteriorating teeth or jaw
(unexplainable by dentist)
45 55 Black tar-like fluid comes out
through pores
40 49 Hair texture feels different,
abnormal
37 45 No hair growth
30 37 Female problems (pelvic pain,
irregular menses)
29 35 Bald patches on head
Table 7 Comparison of symptom prevalence in Morgellons group
(n = 122) and Lyme group (n = 60)
Symptom Morgellons
group (n[%])
Lyme group
(n[%])
Crawling sensations 118 (98%) 19 (32%)
Skin lesions 116 (95%) 5 (8%)
Fatigue 111 (91%) 58 (97%)
Sleep irregularities 110 (90%) 60 (100%)
Hyperpigmented scars 109 (89%) 6 (10%)
Intense pruritus 106 (87%) 20 (33%)
Brain fog 105 (86%) 60 (100%)
Seed like objects 103 (84%) 0 (0%)
Black specks 102 (84%) 0 (0%)
Unusual irritability 100 (82%) 47 (78%)
Symptoms worse when hot 97 (80%) 19 (32%)
“Fuzz balls” on skin 96 (79%) 0 (0%)
Muscle pain 95 (78%) 57 (95%)
Joint pain 94 (78%) 58 (97%)
Weakness 94 (77%) 58 (97%)
Thin, thread-like fibers in skin 94 (77%) 0 (0%)
Skin symptoms worse at night 94 (77%) 15 (25%)
Thick, tough filaments 90 (74%) 0 (0%)
Sensation of poking 87 (71%) 3 (5%)
Hopelessness 84 (69%) 49 (82%)
Awareness of tiny insects 79 (65%) 5 (8%)
New onset anxiety 75 (62%) 40 (67%)
Fibers, filaments move 74 (61%) 0 (0%)
Slimy or waxy film 73 (60%) 0 (0%)
“Sand” in bed 72 (59%) 0 (0%)
Brown flakes in bed 70 (57%) 0 (0%)
Fibers in mucous membranes 70 (57%) 0 (0%)
Objects racing across eyes 69 (57%) 21 (35%)
Mounds on head 68 (56%) 2 (3%)
Dramatic weight change 68 (56%) 30 (50%)
Fibers under nails 65 (53%) 0 (0%)
Significant hair loss 65 (53%) 22 (37%)
Deteriorating teeth/jaw 63 (52%) 15 (25%)
Black, tar-like 55 (45%) 0 (0%)
Hair texture abnormal 49 (40%) 0 (0%)
No hair growth 45 (37%) 0 (0%)
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Table 8 Chi square analysis of symptom prevalence in Morgellons
group versus Lyme group
Significantly more common in the Morgellons group
Symptom P value
Crawling sensations 0.0001
Lesions spontaneously appear on skin 0.0001
Severe itching 0.0001
Hyperpigmented scars 0.0001
Seed like objects coming out of skin 0.0001
Black specks on skin 0.0001
Symptoms worse when hot 0.0001
“Fuzz balls” on skin 0.0001
Thin thread-like fibers 0.0001
Symptoms worse at night 0.0001
Thick, tough fibers 0.0001
Poking sensations through skin 0.0001
Insects flying around head 0.0001
Fibers move 0.0001
Slimy film on skin 0.0001
“Sand” in bed 0.0001
Brown flakes in bed 0.0001
Fibers in mucous membrane 0.0001
Soft mounds on head 0.0001
Fibers under nails 0.0001
Black tar like exudates 0.0001
Abnormal hair texture 0.0001
No hair growth 0.0001
Deteriorating teeth/jaw 0.0008
Objects racing across eyes 0.0074
Significant hair loss 0.0407
Significantly more common in the Lyme group
Joint pain 0.0005
Weakness 0.0005
Brain fog 0.0009
Muscle pain 0.0027
Sleep disturbances 0.0094
No significant difference between the two groups
Extreme fatigue NS
Irritability NS
Hopelessness NS
New onset of anxiety NS
Significant weight change NS
of Hispanic immigrants. It is not known whether this may
have a bearing on the high prevalence of the disease in these
states, but recent third-world travel was found in this study to
be a risk factor for the development of Morgellons disease.
Furthermore, California and Texas are among the states with
the highest average yearly temperatures according to the
National Weather Service (http://usaresearch.gov/search) and
rarely, if ever, endure hard freezes in the winter. The resultant
warm weather may sustain the ability of certain types of
pathogens to survive. The definitive reason for the high
prevalence of Morgellons disease in Texas and California
remains to be determined.
Of note is the high percentage of subjects (32%) who
reported smoking cigarettes. According to 2006 statistics
from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s
National Center for Health Statistics, 17.8% of a
similarly-matched population of adult females smoke
cigarettes. Smoking
can impair immune function, particularly
in areas heavily perfused by microvasculature,
such as the skin.16 Smoking may also have been more
prevalent in the study population as a result of the extreme
emotional stress that Morgellons patients endure. Our
data did not differentiate between those who had been
smoking before their illness and those who began smoking
as a result of it.
According to a 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and
Health, an estimated 5.9% of women over 18 years met
criteria
for substance abuse within the year prior to the survey’s
data collection. Slightly more than twice that percentage
of the study sample (12.3%) reported a history of substance
abuse. It is known that taking certain drugs such as amphetamines
or withdrawing from them may cause sensations of
“bugs crawling on the skin”, and the sample’s relatively high
percentage of subjects with a history of substance abuse could
be used to support the argument that Morgellons disease is
simply a psychologic or drug-induced state. However, it is
equally important to note that 87.7% of study subjects had
no history of substance abuse.
Most patients reported no symptoms in their loved
ones despite the fact that they continued to sleep with their
spouses and care for their children throughout their illnesses.
However, 18% of this sample (n = 22) reported at least one
family member with similar symptoms. For most of these
22 subjects, the pre-illness exposure that they reported could
have been a common exposure for other family members.
Furthermore, family members reported as having symptoms
were not interviewed or examined by the first author and may
not have actually had Morgellons disease. It remains unclear
as to whether there is a contagious component to Morgellons
disease or whether symptoms shared by family members
imply a common exposure source.
Depression was reported by 28.7% of the study sample
and antidepressants were the most common medications
Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology 2010:3 75
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taken. The lifetime prevalence of depression in the US is
estimated to be as much as 17% of the general population,17 so
the rate of depression seen in this population does not appear
to be particularly high considering that subjects were suffering
from a misunderstood and debilitating chronic medical
condition. Furthermore, since many patients with Morgellons
disease are referred to psychiatrists, significantly more
patients with psychological diagnoses would be expected in
this group.
The prevalence of delusional disorder in the US is estimated
to be about 0.03%, and a similarly low prevalence is
found in other societies.18,19 A review of the backgrounds of
3,000 self-reported cases of Morgellons disease found preexisting
delusional disorders to be no more prevalent than
would be expected in the general population.20 Nevertheless,
patients with symptoms of Morgellons disease are routinely
dismissed as delusional.7 The present study reinforces the
fact that Morgellons patients appear to be distinct from
patients with delusional disorders in terms of demographics
and symptomatology.
Thyroid medication was the second most common medication
taken by the study subjects (20.5%) and 22.1% of the
sample claimed to have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
Considering that about 3% to 8% of adults in the general population
are hypothyroid,21 this prevalence in the study group
appears to be high. The predominantly middle-aged, female
demographic of the study group may have influenced this
finding, since hypothyroidism is more prevalent in females
than in males and in older adults than younger adults.21
Should future research duplicate the finding of a high
prevalence of hypothyroidism in Morgellons patients, it
would be worthwhile to distinguish between those who
were hypothyroid before their Morgellons disease symptoms
appeared and those who developed it afterwards. Thyroid
antibody testing would also be helpful in order to differentiate
those who are hypothyroid due to autoimmune thyroiditis.
Infections may play a role in autoimmunity,22 suggesting that
hypothyroidism could be a consequence of infection with the
putative agent of Morgellons disease. Because we did not
differentiate between Morgellons patients and Lyme patients
with regard to hypothyroidism, B burgdorferi infection may
have played a role in this comorbidity as well. Homologies
between thyroid antigens and borrelial proteins have been
described,23 suggesting that coexisting Lyme disease may
trigger thyroid dysfunction in genetically susceptible Morgellons
patients.
A provisional case definition for Morgellons disease
consisting of nine symptoms has been developed by the
MRF based on self-reported cases.2 Based on the findings
of the current study, five of the symptoms in the MRF
provisional case definition for Morgellons disease appear
to be nonspecific. These five symptoms are severe fatigue,
problems with cognition, musculoskeletal pain, aerobic
limitation, and behavioral changes. Of note, these symptoms
are frequently reported in patients with chronic Lyme disease
(Table 7). Thus the symptoms may reflect the presence
of both conditions rather than being specific markers for
Morgellons disease.
The high rate of tick-borne diseases in our sample is
intriguing and prompts speculation as to whether the putative
agent of Morgellons disease could be tick-borne.24 Another
possibility is that infection with B burgdorferi may predispose
a victim to other illnesses such as Morgellons disease. This
phenomenon is observed, for example, in the prevalence of
virally-induced (and otherwise rare) Kaposi’s sarcoma in
patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.25 The
association between Morgellons diseae and Lyme disease
merits further study.
Summary
The primary purpose of this study was to elucidate the
symptoms common to patients with a positive examination
for subcutaneous fibers in order to develop an accurate and
clinically useful case definition for Morgellons disease. After
adjusting for symptoms that were nonspecific to the fiber
group, the most common symptoms shared by more than
70% of the study sample were: crawling sensations under
the skin; spontaneously appearing, slow-healing lesions;
hyperpigmented scars when lesions heal; intense pruritus;
seed-like objects and black specks coming out of the skin;
“fuzz balls” on intact skin; fine, thread-like fibers of varying
colors in lesions and intact skin; lesions with thick, tough,
translucent fibers that are highly resistant to extraction; and
a sensation of something trying to penetrate the skin from
the inside out.
Other significant findings in the study sample that warrant
further investigation are the association with tick-borne
diseases and hypothyroidism, high numbers from two states
(Texas and California), high prevalence in middle-aged
Caucasian women, and a higher-than-average history of
substance abuse.
This is the first group of clinician-defined Morgellons
subjects to be described in detail. The strength of the
study lies in the size of the sample and the unique and
clearly defined inclusion criterion that virtually rules out
confounding variables. Further study of etiological factors
76 Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology 2010:3
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11. de la Fuente J, Estrada-Pena A, Venzal JM, Kocan KM, Sonenshine DE.
Overview: Ticks as vectors of pathogens that cause disease in humans
and animals. Frontiers Bioscience. 2008;1:6938–6946.
12. Stricker RB, Winger EE. Decreased CD57 lymphocyte subset in patients
with chronic Lyme disease. Immunol Lett. 2001;76:43–48.
13. Stricker RB, Savely VR, Motanya NC, Giglas BC. Complement split
products C3a and C4a in chronic Lyme disease. Scand J Immunol.
2009;69:64–69.
14. Stricker RB, Johnson L. Gender bias in chronic Lyme disease. J Womens
Health (Larchmt). 2009;18(10):1717–1718; author reply 1719–1720.
15. Zuk M, McKean KA. Sex differences in parasite infections: Patterns
and processes. Int J Parasitol. 1996;26:1009–1024.
16. Ahn C, Mulligan P, Salcido RS. Smoking, the bane of wound healing;
Biomedical interventions and social influences. Adv Skin Wound Care.
2008;21:237–238.
17. Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demier O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE.
Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM IV disorders
in the national comorbidity survey replication. Arch Gen Psych.
2005;62:617–627.
18. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR).
Chapter 2. Washington, DC; American Psychiatric Association: 2000.
19. de Portugal E, González N, Haro JM, Autonell J, Cervilla JA.
A descriptive case-register study of delusional disorder. Eur Psychiatry.
2008;23:125–133.
20. Bransfield R. Personal communication. Sep 13, 2008.
21. Fatourechi V. Subclinical hypothyroidism: An update for primary care
physicians. Mayo Clin Proc. 2009;84:65–71.
22. Pordeus V, Szyper-Kravitz M, Levy RA, Vaz NM, Shoenfeld Y. Infections
and autoimmunity: A panorama. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol.
2008;34:283–299.
23. Benvenga S, Guarneri F, Vaccaro M, Santarpia L, Trimarchi F. Homologies
between proteins of Borrelia burgdorferi and thyroid autoantigens.
Thyroid. 2004;14:964–966.
24. Stricker RB, Savely VR, Zaltsman A, Citovsky V. Contribution of
Agrobacterium to Morgellons disease. J Invest Med. 2007;55:S123.
25. Dezube BJ. Clinical presentation and natural history of AIDSrelated
Kaposi’s sarcoma. Hematol Oncol Clin North Am.
1996;10:1023–1029.
and symptom prevalence in this emerging multisystem illness
is warranted.
Acknowledgments
The authors wish to acknowledge Joyce Fitzpatrick, Irena
Kennelley, and Gregory Graham for assistance with research
methods. We thank Cindy Casey, David Thomas, and Meghan
Doherty for help with data collection, and we are grateful
to Robert Bransfield, Randy Wymore, Joseph Jemsek, and
James Schaller for valuable feedback.
Disclosures
There are no conflicts of interest or sources of funding to
declare for either author.
References
1. Savely VR, Leitao MM, Stricker RB. The mystery of Morgellons
disease: Infection or delusion? Am J Clin Dermatol. 2006;7:1–5.
2. Morgellons Research Foundation (MRF) web site. Accessed June 30,
2009 at www.mrf.com.
3. Harvey WT. Morgellons disease. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;56:
705–706.
4. Koblenzer CS. The challenge of Morgellons disease. J Am Acad Dermatol.
2006;55:920–922.
5. Paquette M. Morgellons: Disease or delusions? Perspect Psych Care.
2007;43:67–68.
6. Wymore R. Personal communication. May 4, 2009.
7. Savely VR, Stricker RB. Morgellons disease: The mystery unfolds.
Expert Rev Dermatol. 2007;2:585–591.
8. DeVon HA, Block ME, Moyle-Wright P, Ernst DM, Hayden SJ, Lazzara,
et al. A psychometric toolbox for testing validity and reliability. J Nursing
Scholar. 2007;39:155–164.
9. Brown SL, Hansen SL, Langone JJ. Role of serology in the diagnosis
of Lyme disease. JAMA. 1999;282:79–80.
10. Ma B, Christen B, Leung D, Vigo-Pelfry C. Serodiagnosis of Lyme
borreliosis by Western immunoblot: Reactivity of various significant
antibodies against Borrelia burgdorferi. J Clin Microbiol. 1992;30:
370–376.
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Appendix A
I. Demographic data extraction tool.
Completed by the primary investigator.
Subject ID # _____
Gender: Male = 0 Female = 1
Age in years: _______
Ethnicity:
1. Caucasian 3. Hispanic
2. African-American 4. Asian
State of Residence –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Postal Code for State: –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Occupation at time of illness onset: _________________
Circle appropriate type of occupation based on above:
1. Unemployed, retired or on disability
2. Office worker
3. Health care worker
4. Professional
5. Outdoor manual lab
6. Indoor manual labor
7. Sales
8. Teacher
9. Technical
10. Other
II. Health background data extraction tool.
Completed by the primary investigator.
Smoker? NO = 0 YES = 1
Substance abuse problem: NO = 0 YES = 1
On immunosuppressive therapy? NO = 0 YES = 1
Family members with same symptoms? NO = 0 YES = 1
Length of time in months the patient had symptoms
before initial visit?
______years _______ mos TOTAL TIME IN MONTHS
(with 0 fill) _______
COMORBIDITIES: Circle: 0 for NO 1 for YES
Anaplasmosis 0 1
Anemia 0 1
Allergic rhinitis/asthma 0 1
Autoimmune disease 0 1
Babesiosis 0 1
Bartonellosis 0 1
Chronic fatigue syndrome 0 1
Depression 0 1
Ehrlichiosis 0 1
Fibromyalgia 0 1
Heart disease 0 1
Hypothyroid 0 1
Lyme (+ test) 0 1
Lyme, highly suspicious 0 1
Sleep disorder 0 1
Other (20 sp) ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––------–
MEDICATION(S): Circle: 0 for NO 1 for YES
Antihypertensive 0 1
Antidepressant 0 1
Antihistamine 0 1
Antiepileptic 0 1
Other (
10 sp) –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
PRECIPITATING EVENT(S): Circle: 0 for NO 1 for YES
Camping 0 1
Exposure to dirty water 0 1
Lice, flea infestation 0 1
Life stress 0 1
Post-surgical 0 1
Splinter, cut, thorn 0 1
Working in dirt 0 1
Unknown 0 1
Other (20 sp) –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Diagnoses given
for current symptoms: Circle: 0 for NO 1 for YES
Delusions of parasitosis 0 1
Scabies 0 1
Impetigo 0 1
Folliculitis 0 1
Atopic dermatitis 0 1
Neurodermatitis 0 1
Drug-induced formications 0 1
Cutaneous sensory disease 0 1
Other (20 sp)–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
III. Symptom data extraction tool.
Completed by the primary investigator.
To the left of each symptom put a “0” if it was left blank
in the original questionnaire and a “1” if it was checked off
as present
1____ Disfiguring lesions on skin which start like tiny
pimples
2____ Intense itching, even before the lesions appear
3____ Feeling of crawling, biting and stinging under
skin
4____ Feeling something trying to poke through the skin
from the inside
5____ Lesions heal slowly and form brownish scars
6____ Bald patches on your head
7____ Hair loss
8____ Hair that does not grow (same length for a long time)
9____ When hair grows back on head it does not feel like
it is yours
10____ Hair-like filaments from “wiggle” and move once
extracted
11____ Hair-like filaments in tongue, throat, nose, ears,
eyes (circle which)
12____ Black specks on skin, which when brushed aside,
reappear
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13___ Film on skin (greasy, slimy)
14___ Soft mounds on skull, sometimes filled with fibers
15___ Tough, white, hard-to-extract filaments coming out of
lesions
16___ Thin white filaments protruding through skin
17___ Tough filaments under finger and/or toe nails
18___ Black, tar-like exudates on the skin
19___ “Fuzz balls” on skin – blue, white, red or orange (circle
which)
20___ Sensation of things racing across your eyes, affecting
your vision
21___ Dried brown flakes on your bed sheets
22___ Sand-like objects present in bedclothes upon
awakening
23___ Frequent awareness of tiny flying insects around you
24___ Seed-like or granule-like objects associated with skin
or lesions
25___ Dramatic increase in skin symptoms when hot or
sweating
26___ Symptoms worse at night
27___ Deteriorating teeth or jaw
28___ Extreme fatigue
29___ Brain fog, memory problems, inability to concentrate
or think
30___ Muscle aches
31___ Weakness
32___ Joint pain
33___ Disrupted sleep
34___ Disturbed menstrual cycle
35___ Weight change that you cannot control (gain or loss)
36___ Unusual irritability or new onset of depression
37___ New onset of anxiety or panic disorder
38___ Feelings of hopelessness or suicide
39___ Other (write in): ____________________________

2 comments:

  1. Prior to cure something you must know very well what that something is.
    There is a huge problem on the Internet. All talk no one is listening. It is based on the complex and seeks explanations as shocking. In most cases the explanations are simple and logical. In fact this is the beauty of the Internet. Many fools who create an intellectual fog.
    There is a mysterious skin disease that appeared recently in the world. Some call Morgellons. So far nobody knows an effective remedy for it. The so-called mystery is the fact that they have not found so far causation of illness, due to which we get sick.

    Why?

    For that Morgellons is not a skin disease. Morgellons is not a mental illness. Morgellons is not organic disease . Morgellons is not a contagious disease. Morgellons is not an infectious disease. Morgellons is not the fungus. Morgellons is not biological. Morgellons is not a disease caused by chemicals. Morgellons is not a disease!

    What is Morgellons?

    Morgellons is a normal reaction of the body to some extremely dangerous factors. Morgellons is a warning sent by our body. He warn us that the colored beads and cheap is not good.
    I found those harmful factors and I removed. After that I began to recover my lost health. After 150 days of the removal that harmful factors (the case), my skin is recovering day by day. See photos in the gallery. True disease is not limited to skin but attacking any living tissue. Doctors around the world are overwhelmed. For those reading on the Internet the strangest explanations. From aliens, conspiracies, chemical agents to one who helped "design" disease. I read them all. The real cause of this reaction is as real and present with us. Located in close proximity to each of us. Know that you pay to have Morgellons?
    I know very well what I say. See evidence on: http://iso.ro/Morgellons/MorgellonsPhoto.aspx
    You want your skin to recover? Contact me on : myskin@iso.ro

    ReplyDelete
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