Morgellons noninfectious, no environmental cause
MedWire News: An investigation into the unexplained skin condition known as "Morgellons" finds no evidence to suggest that it is infectious or caused by an environmental source.
The symptoms of Morgellons, which is currently not recognized as a distinct clinical disorder, commonly include nonhealing skin lesions, excretion of fibers or other solid material from the skin, itching, and sensations of stinging, biting, or pins and needles.
To try and ascertain whether the condition has any environmental basis or is infectious, Mark Eberhard (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA) and colleagues identified and enrolled 104 patients from Northern California who presented with symptoms suggestive of Morgellons.
Of these individuals, 70 filled out a cross-sectional survey including information about demographic factors and their condition and 41 were clinically examined.
The researchers used the Kaiser Permanente Northern California database 2006-2008 records to search for people with the condition and found that the prevalence was 3.65 cases per 100,000 enrollees. The patients with the condition were mostly female (77%) and Caucasian (77%). The median age of the patients was 55 years, and the condition was significantly more common in 45-64 year olds than in other age groups.
Although Morgellons is rare, there have been a significant number of cases reported in the California area in recent years. However, the results from this study showed no evidence of clustering of cases, as might be expected if an environmental agent or source was to blame.
No parasites or mycobacteria were isolated from skin samples, suggesting that the condition is not infectious. Samples taken from the patients' skin excretions were mostly composed of cellulose, which the researchers suggest is likely to be of cotton origin.
Taking the results of the survey and examinations into consideration, Eberhard and team suggest that, as there appears to be no common underlying medical condition or infectious source for Morgellons, it most closely resembles conditions such as delusional infestation.
Indeed, cognitive deficits were common in the patients (59%) and a large number (63%) had symptoms of clinically significant somatic disorders. Drug and solvent exposure were also commonly detected in hair samples or reported by participants in the cohort, at 58% and 78%, respectively.
"We found no evidence that this condition is contagious, or that suggests the need for additional testing for an infectious disease as a potential cause," said Eberhard in a press statement.
"This alleviates concerns about the condition being contagious between family members and others," he added.
The results of this study are published in PLoS ONE.
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By Helen Albert