MEDICAL RESEARCH

What is Morgellons disease?

Female doctor holding application form while consulting patient

Female doctor holding application form while consulting patient

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is recovering at a Los Angeles-area hospital Thursday after being found unconscious in her home Tuesday afternoon.

A statement on her website said the 71-year-old Canadian-born folk music icon regained consciousness during the ambulance ride to the hospital. According to the statement Mitchell is awake and in good spirits while undergoing tests.

Though it is not clear what type of health crisis Mitchell, who is a lifelong smoker, may have suffered, she told Billboard magazine in December that she has a rare skin condition called Morgellons disease which prevents her from performing.

There is much debate about Morgellons disease and its origin, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which refers to it as unexplained dermopathy, struggling to categorize it.

Sufferers complain of sensations of crawling bugs and fibrous material or solid objects embedded in the skin and non-healing lesions. Some patients report fatigue, memory loss and a substantial decline in quality of life. A 2012 report from the CDC which was published in PLoS ONE found that the condition is not contagious; eliminating the possibility that it has an infectious cause.

In the report, researchers examined 115 people in California who reported symptoms of Morgellons and put them through testing to identify possible causes. The fibrous material and solid objects were extracted and biopsied, and patients were given blood and psychiatric testing.

The report concluded that the fibers were coming from external sources, such as from clothing or carpet that may have gotten stuck in an open wound. Additionally, half of the patients had other medical conditions including psychiatric illness. Researchers also recorded that 50 percent of participants had evidence of drug use.

“We were not able to conclude based on this study whether this unexplained dermopathy represents a new condition, as has been proposed by those who use the term Morgellons, or wider recognition of an existing condition such as delusional infestation, with which it shares a number of clinical and epidemiologic features,” the researchers concluded.

However, the study did not indicate whether the drug use or scratching was a cause or effect of Morgellons, and recommended patients speak with their physician.