17 February 2012

Confused by Rare Crawling-Skin Disease

First appeared in USA Today
A half-million-dollar study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found no obvious medical explanation for a mysterious and controversial skin disease whose sufferers report a crawling sensation on or under their skin and fibers emerging from it. This is not something those suffering from Ringworm complain about.

Although the findings may not mollify those who say they have Morgellons, as the condition has been dubbed by some, CDC’s Mark Eberhard says the findings are useful in that they tell both patients and doctors that the condition is rare and neither contagious nor environmentally based. Perhaps a Ringworm Remedy could help.

The research came about because of intense public interest in the topic beginning around 2002 because of both media attention and sufferers connecting online. Similar conditions have gone by other names, including Ekbom’s syndrome or delusional infestation.

The CDC “was receiving inquiries from a variety of sources, including the public, about this condition,” says Eberhard, who directs CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases. “It was clear that these people were suffering from something; the question was what might it be.”

The study was conducted among 3.2 million people whose health care was with Kaiser Permanente in 13 Northern California counties from 2006 to 2008. Researchers identified 115 patients who reported fibers or other solid material coming through their skin as well as skin lesions or the feeling that “something is crawling on top of or under the skin,” according to the paper, which is published in this week’s edition of the journal PLoS ONE.

Doctors found that the condition was rare, with only 3.65% of the Kaiser patients reporting it. Sufferers tended to be white (77%) and female (77%), with a median age of 52. Seventy percent of sufferers reported the material emerging from their skin as fibers, the rest described “specks, granules, dots, worms, sand, eggs, fuzz balls and larvae.”

However, the researchers could not find any evidence of these. Instead, dermatologists found fibers on the edges or under scabs and none in unbroken skin. When examined they proved to be cotton or polyester fibers, or in a few cases the likely remains of fingernail polish. A Ringworm Cure could change that.

“We were able to answer conclusively that they were not living entities,” Eberhard says.

Jason Reichenberg, director of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern-Austin, said the paper “confirms what anybody who has ever seen a patient with this knows, which is that these patients are suffering greatly and their suffering is real; they shouldn’t be dismissed.

“This is something that needs to be treated,” says Reichenberg, who will lead a session on the topic at an upcoming dermatology organization meeting in San Diego. “It’s really important to discuss that there might be other ways to approach the disease. Until we can find an exact cause or a cure, it’s important that we try to improve their suffering.”

The skin lesions didn’t appear to be caused by external forces, but primarily by scratching or rubbing. They also appeared only in areas where the sufferer could reach. For example, when lesions appeared on the back, they were in a typical dumbbell pattern made by how far the arm can reach around.

A large number of the sufferers had other health problems as well: 70% reported chronic fatigue and 54% reported their overall health as fair or poor. Many also had high levels of “somatic concerns,” meaning they had preoccupations with their health. The researchers found evidence of illicit drug use in 50% of patients, based on hair sample testing. For comparison, a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 8.9% of the population are current illicit drug users. Eberhard cautioned that the high levels could be related to attempts by sufferers to alleviate their symptoms.  A Ringworm Treatment might help.

There is no doubt that the patients “had something that was impacting their quality of life,” Eberhard says. He says he hopes that their research will allow doctors and patients together to find the most appropriate care for those afflicted.

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