Yesterday’s LA Times had an article on a Mayo Clinic study of Morgellons disease. Mayo researchers looked at 108 Morgellons patients over 7 years. With one exception, who turned out to be suffering from pubic lice, none of the patients had any evidence of infestation by bugs or parasites. The Mayo report concludes all of the patients were suffering from “delusional parasitosis,” a psychiatric illness in which patients erroneously believe that their skin is infested with parasites. In other words — it’s all in their heads.
That’s not the confounding part. A Google search on Morgellons shows dozens of sites devoted to it, include a research foundation, support groups, and a page devoted to pictures of fibers purportedly produced by sufferers. Even the Mayo Clinic site has a page on coping with the disease. The sad part is even the study lead doubts the study will convince self-diagnosed patients that their disease “originates in their brains and not under their skin.” And the Internet provides a platform not just for reinforcement, but for them to lobby Congress and the CDC for cures.
“Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” reminds me that this kind of thing isn’t really new, but I have to think the Internet makes it much easier to start and harder to kill. Disturbing.