It causes awful blooms of skin sores, and strange sensations of being bitten, crawled over or stung. Tiny foreign fibers actually grow under, or shoot out from, the skin. It's caused by bacteria. Or genetically modified fibers in clothing. Or some unknown environmental toxin. Or maybe it's all a delusion of the patient.
The Internet allowed widely dispersed patients to find each other and share vital information and define a serious, emerging affliction -- or maybe it was the Internet that helped conspiracy theorists railroad the federal government into spending thousands on a dead-end study. Such is the state of Morgellons disease -- a condition defined as much by controversy as by the horrifying descriptions of its symptoms. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is putting it to the test.
Is it real? Is it new? Are the symptoms caused by the same thing or things? Are cases really increasing? Is some environmental change to blame? The attention from the most mainstream of agencies -- the nation's disease-tracking guru -- is shining a new spotlight on Morgellons. But the CDC is taking a very cautious route, describing it only as an "unexplained dermopathy" popularly known as Morgellons.
"Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has received an increased number of inquiries regarding an unexplained skin condition which some refer to as Morgellons.,'" the CDC writes on its Web page devoted to the disease and investigation.
"Persons who suffer from this unexplained skin condition report a range of cutaneous (skin) symptoms including crawling, biting and stinging sensations; granules, threads, fibers, or black speck-like materials on or beneath the skin; and/or skin lesions (e.g., rashes or sores). In addition to skin manifestations, some sufferers also report fatigue, mental confusion, short term memory loss, joint pain, and changes in vision."
The investigation will involve:
Experts from a variety of fields -- from epidemiology, environmental health, dermatology, chronic diseases, infectious diseases, pathology to mental health -- will participate. The epidemiological investigation is only now getting under way, after having been announced in July.
The answers won't come quickly, but now the sufferers of this strange disease have some hope of getting answers. Given the air of mystery around the disease, whatever answers come, and at whatever pace -- they aren't likely to come fast enough, or be universally accepted.
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