This is the fourth of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.
By David Massaquoi
Working in public health is an interesting and satisfying job. Adding infectious disease investigation to such task makes the job not only difficult but the challenges of encountering numerous disease conditions; including learning about the Morgellon’s disease. In recent years, doctors have been faced with an unexplained skin disease condition, dubbed “Morgellons Disease”. I will not go into details with all the debates on merits and demerits of this “New” or “Emerging”? condition. However, as an infectious disease epi student and a public health practitioner, I found it interesting to discuss this issue with fellow students, the public and our infectious disease researchers and professors.
A few things I would hope to discuss with fellow readers and bloggers are: What is this “disease”? Is it a disease anyway? Is it just a “Madness” or a “Malade” – French word for illness? Or, will this be another emerging, non contagious, condition? Will this be a new non infectious/infectious skin disease of the 21st century? There is very little data on this condition as it has just recently caught the attention ( well interest I could say) of public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to Wikipedia, “Morgellons” (also called Morgellons disease or Morgellons syndrome) is a name given in 2002 by biologist Mary Leitao to a condition characterized by a range of cutaneous (skin) symptoms including crawling, biting, and stinging sensations; finding fibers on or under the skin; and persistent skin lesions (e.g., rashes or sores). The CDC has stated that “it is not known at the present whether the condition represented a new disease entity, or whether persons who identify themselves as having Morgellons have a common cause for their symptoms, share common risk factors, or are contagious”.
According to the data currently available on this condition, the majority of health professionals, including most dermatologists, regard Morgellons as a manifestation of other known medical conditions, including delusional parasitosis. Simply put, doctors and most health professionals think people with “Morgellons disease” are either addicts or psychos and may just be making things up. Here in Iowa, staff members at the Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology (CADE), at the state health department, have had their own share of problems with investigating this mysterious skin condition. With all the skin tests doctors have performed and few interviews conducted, it all point to delusional parasitosis.
However, few weeks ago, the CDC put out a press release stating that some researchers from CDC will team up with researchers from Kaiser Permanente, a health insurance group, to investigate the mysterious “Morgellons disease”. According to that press release, the government will spend $338,000 to investigate this mysterious disease.
Now, the question to you the reader is, is this story worth your time? Is this a new disease introduced into our country? Is this skin condition a manifestation of a chronic condition due to previously unknown infectious agent(s)? I decided to blog about this condition because we are studying “Infectious Causes of Chronic Disease” and I am just wondering if this skin disease condition, could be a manifestation of an infectious agent(s). Although most indications are that this disease might be a “delusional parasitosis” condition, I think it is worth researchers making an effort to put the argument to rest on this condition. It might be a psychosis condition but without good epidemiological research and full data analysis, it might be a missed opportunity to know if this is just a “Madness” or true “Malade”?. As I stated earlier, I do not have the data to answer some of these questions and we may not know for a while, but I feel it might be interesting to bring this to your attention; especially the CDC research initiative.
Originally from Sierra Leone, David has a BS degree in biology and worked at the NIH before coming to Iowa to pursue a graduate degree in public health at the Des Moines University Medical Center (DMU). He is currently enrolled at the University of Iowa in the PhD program to study Infectious Disease Epidemiology and International Health. Once he completes his studies, David hopes to engage in infectious disease research and epidemiological investigation in developing nations.