Morgellons Disease Continues to Defeat Scientists
Burrowing bugs, delusions or a nervous disorder? Why can’t medical scientists get to the bottom of Morgellons Disease?
Nick Mann was convinced that something was burrowing into his skin. The 48-year-old father of two had been for a walk in the beautiful grounds of Abney Park Cemetery, down the road from his home in Hackney, east London.
It was sunny and he’d been wearing shorts and sandals. That evening, his legs began itching. Marks sprang up all over his body. “I just knew something was on me,” he remembers. “Something digging or biting into my skin.”
Over the coming days, lesions opened up on his body. Running his fingertips over them, he could feel something inside: it felt like spines or fibres, he says. He began to feel tormented. What were these bugs? How many were there? Would he ever be rid of them?
One afternoon, in desperation, Nick stripped naked in his kitchen and determined to dig one out as soon as felt it ‘bite’. “I stood there for three or four hours, waiting,” he says. “As soon as it did, I went for it with a hypodermic needle. There was one on my nipple.”
He pales slightly. “You know, I can’t get that out of my head. It was so painful. I dug the needle in and felt it flicking against something that wasn’t me. And I just carried on digging and scooping.” It took nearly four hours. “At one point my wife came in and saw blood dripping down my leg.”
By the end of the afternoon, Nick had dug out three of the mysterious entities from his body. They were so small, he says, you could only see them when they moved. Having managed to transfer them into a jar, he proudly showed his wife. Karen peered into the pot. She could see nothing. Nick, however, knew he was on the verge of discovering what this strange and maddening condition was.
It was back in 2001 that the first modern-day reports of a mysterious “fibre disease” began to emerge from the US. When Mary Leitao’s two-year-old son complained of “bugs in his skin” and subsequently broke out in lesions, the worried mother examined him with a toy microscope.
Causes and cures: starting from scratch
Itching is a common symptom but can be severe and frustrating. It can be localised, or all over the body and there are numerous causes and various treatments.
A non-infectious skin condition – eczema, psoriasis or prurigo (fluid filled blisters).
Allergies – nickel, medication, washing powder, cosmetics or food.
An insect or parasite – bites, scabies, head lice, bed bugs or ticks.
Fungal and viral infections, such as measles, athlete’s foot, ringworm and thrush.
Some types of cancer, thyroid problems, hepatitis and liver disease.
Hormonal changes in the body during the menopause and pregnancy.
Visit your GP for a diagnosis if your itching is severe, prolonged or recurring. Seek medical advice if itching is associated with other symptoms, such as breathing problems, inflammation or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
A physical assessment may be able to determine the cause of the itching, but your doctor may
also carry out a blood test, skin scraping, swab or biopsy to diagnose the underlying cause of the problem.
Treatment will depend on the cause of the itching. Bathing skin in lukewarm water and avoiding skin irritants, such as certain fabrics, tight fitting clothing and perfumed cosmetics.
Medication or creams may be prescribed. Antihistamines may be advisable for insect bites or if an allergy has been diagnosed.
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