Morgellons Disease Overview

Mental Illness or Physical Malady?

Long before they officially become physicians, medical students are sometimes advised to beware the zip-close baggie. When it comes to patient care, it's usually a pretty good rule of thumb: If a patient comes to you for help and brings their symptoms in a baggie -- instead of on their body -- remain skeptical. And get ready to prescribe some anti-psychotic medication.

Unfortunately for patients who believe they have fibers growing out of their skin, this time-tested advice doesn't work in their favor. Those with Morgellons often collect and bring the fibers or black specks that flake off skin to the doctor in a desperate version of show-and-tell. Often, it's presumed the wounds are self-inflicted [source: Savely].

Many of those who report Morgellons-like symptoms to physicians are diagnosed with a psychosomatic illness such as delusional parasitosis [source: Savely]. Simply put, delusional parasitosis means a person believes there's a bug or other material coming out of their skin when in reality there is not [source: Than]. What about the sores and fibers? Although these seem to provide clear-cut evidence, they can be attributed to psychosomatic illness, too. The sores could be self-inflicted; the fibers, admittedly more difficult to explain, could be planted. A disorder like delusional parasitosis may start in the mind, but it can manifest itself with physical symptoms that are not imaginary [source: University of Michigan Health System].

Plus, some anti-psychotic medications do relieve the itching, which seems to confirm a delusional parasitosis diagnosis [source: Savely].

The problem is that if Morgellons is purely a physical malady, it isn't yet recognized by the medical community as a disease. And there aren't any currently known diseases or disorders that exactly match its combined symptoms [source: OSU]. What's more, the purported disease's symptoms overlap those of many other conditions, such as a simple dermatitis or Lyme disease [source: Than]. Sometimes, the physical treatment offered by the medical community is simply the most obvious one: "Just don't scratch it" [source: OSU]. But until researchers get to the root of Morgellons, few are certain how -- or even willing -- to treat it.

Want to learn about some other skin conditions and how to treat them? Check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • ABC News. "Morgellons' Mystery." Aug. 9 2006. (May 21, 2010)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Unexplained Dermopathy." (May 21, 2010)
  • Chertoff, Benjamin. "Making Their Skin Crawl." Popular Mechanics. June 2005. (May 18, 2010)
  • Chong, Jia-Rui. "Morgellons Study Begins in California." Los Angeles Times. Jan. 19, 2008. (May 21, 2010)
  • Harlan, Chico. "Mom Fights for Answers on What's Wrong with Her Son." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 23, 2006. (May 21, 2010)
  • Ho, Mae-Wan and Joe Cummins. "Agrobacterium and Morgellons Disease, a GM Connection?" Center for Research on Globalization. Aug. 20, 2008. (May 21, 2010)
  • Inside Edition. "Morgellons Disease." Feb. 19. 2010. (May 21, 2010)
  • KTVU. "Doctors Make Progress with Mysterious Disease." May 23, 2006. (May 23, 2010).
  • Mortellaro, Jim. "Bottled Water Blamed for Rash with Fibers, not Chemtrails." Feb. 22, 2005. (May 24, 2010)
  • Morgellons Research. "Latest Inquiry Results on Morgellons Disease." March 2010.
  • Oklahoma State University (OSU). "OSU Professor Hunts Cause of Odd Disease." Center for Health Sciences: Rounds. October 2005. (May 23, 2010)
  • Savely, Ginger. "The Mystery of Morgellons Disease: Infection or Delusion?" American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2006.
  • Schulte, Brigid. "Figments of the Imagination?" Washington Post. Jan. 20, 2008. (May 20. 2010)
  • Stobbe, Mike. "CDC Probes Bizarre Morgellons Condition." Washington Post. Aug. 8, 2006. (May 22, 2010)
  • Templeton, David. "CDC gives $545,000 to Study Mysterious Condition." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Jan. 17, 2010. (May 22, 2010)
  • Than, Ker. "Mystery Disease Makes Peoples' Skin Crawl." LiveScience. May 26, 2006. (May 20, 2010)
  • University of Michigan Health System. "Psychosomatic Illness." (May 22, 2010)
  • Williamson, Janice. "Morgellons-The Disease Doctors Refuse to Treat." KHOU-TV. June 27, 2006. (May 23, 2010)
  • Witt, Howard. "Is Mystery Illness Real or Illusion?" Chicago Tribune. July 26, 2006. (May 20, 2010)

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