Morgellons: Whatever the Cause, the Suffering Is Real

Image, magnified 60 times, depicts fiber-embedded skin removed from a facial lesion of a 3-year-old boy who the Morgellons Research Foundation says has Morgellons.

Image, provided by Morgellons Research Foundation to AJN in 2008, described as depicting fiber-embedded skin removed from facial lesion of 3-year-old boy with Morgellons (magnified 60x).

By Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

As you may have read, Joni Mitchell was recently found unconscious in her home and is now in the hospital. She has attributed her health issues to a syndrome called Morgellons—a condition in which sufferers experience what they describe as fibers emerging from their skin, along with intense itching, sores that won’t heal, and a host of nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue and concentration problems.

Whether it’s a clinically verifiable illness or, as some have argued, a manifestation of a psychological condition known as “delusional parasitosis,” Morgellons is plenty real to those who experience it.

We covered this controversial illness several years back in an article called “AKA ‘Morgellons.'” I interviewed two nurses and several others about their experiences. One of the nurses (see this sidebar) was convinced she had caught the condition from a patient. I also spoke with Michele Pearson, MD, the lead investigator of a then-pending CDC study to look into the disease, which had been announced in response to an extensive patient advocacy campaign. As she put it at the time:

“It’s a complex condition . . . It may be multifactorial. What we now know is through self-report or anecdotal. There’s nothing systematic.”

As a recent Time article notes, the results of that study were inconclusive:

The researchers studied skin biopsies and urine and blood samples to see if they could determine a common cause. They basically concluded that they didn’t buy it: “No common underlying medical condition or infectious source was identified, similar to more commonly recognized conditions such as delusional infestation.”

Suffering, whether we understand its cause or not, should be taken seriously. No doubt we’ll be hearing more about this condition, and more debate about whether it’s real or not. But in the meantime, how can we help those who believe they have Morgellons?

Bookmark and Share

2016-11-21T13:02:44+00:00 April 2nd, 2015|Nursing, nursing perspective, patient engagement, Patients|1 Comment

About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

One Comment

  1. Not Nurse Ratched (@not_ratched) April 3, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    The only time I’ve encountered this condition has been in jails. Both times the person was also addicted to meth. Tough call.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.