- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating reports of a bizarre condition marked by symptoms such as crawling and biting sensations all over the skin, painful crusty lesions that won’t heal, mental confusion and tangled fibers that sprout from open sores.

Nearly 5,000 U.S. families think they have one or more members who suffer from what is called Morgellons disease — a condition whose symptoms were first described in France 400 years ago — although its existence is not recognized by any public health organization.

“We’re not disputing the fact that something is going on here and that these physical conditions are distressing to people,” said CDC spokesman Dan Rutz, but “we haven’t seen anything that suggests an infectious process is going on.”

Dr. Gregory V. Smith, a Georgia pediatrician who says both he and his wife have the disease, accuses the CDC of “foot-dragging.”

“It’s only taken them five years to do this. Meanwhile, I feel Morgellons is an emerging infectious disease and that my wife and I got it from insect bites,” he said yesterday in a telephone interview, adding that most dermatologists who observe the symptoms think the afflicted have psychiatric or emotional disorders.

“They say you have delusions,” the physician said.

In fact, patients with a condition called delusional parasitosis complain of problems similar to those described by those who think they have Morgellons, such as crawling sensations and skin infestations.

“We don’t know if emotional events trigger them” or other factors, such as environmental exposures, are involved, Mr. Rutz said in a telephone interview.

Randy S. Wymore of Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences said many skeptics think the fibers emanating from lesions on the skin of the afflicted are merely lint or fuzz picked up from clothing or carpets. But he said he and others who have examined patients and their fibers are sure they are not from any fabric.

“We’ve had three sets of patients come in, including Dr. Smith, and these fibers were not only visible from their lesions; they were actually visible from under their skin. … This is not fringe research,” Mr. Wymore said.

Mary Leitao of Myrtle Beach, S.C., thinks all three of her children have Morgellons disease. Her youngest son, Drew, now 7, developed it when he was 2, and she spent years trying to get his problem diagnosed.

“He scratches all night long in his sleep,” she said in an interview.

It was Mrs. Leitao who labeled her children’s condition as Morgellons disease after concluding the symptoms they are battling resemble those of the 17th-century French illness.

Mrs. Leitao founded the Morgellons Research Foundation, an advocacy group, and started a Web site (www.morgellons.org) for those who think they may have it, adding that especially large numbers of sufferers seem to be concentrated in California, Florida and Texas.

She wants to find out whether the condition is related to Lyme disease, given that there is a “high incidence of Lyme disease” among those who think they have Morgellons, or whether it is linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, a mystery illness that caused a stir in the 1980s.

In April, a Texas man died of an overdose of more than 50 pills, including sedatives and painkillers. Friends said the man was convinced he had Morgellons disease and committed suicide because he could not find relief.

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