Sun, May 08, 2011 - Page 13 News List

The mystery of the morgellons itch

It’s a mysterious condition that affects tens of thousands worldwide. But are we dealing with a hidden epidemic or mass hysteria?

By Will Storr  /  The Guardian, LONDON

Many of the attendees have been diagnosed with DOP, a subject that enrages one of the first speakers — Greg Smith, a pediatrician of 28 years’ experience. “Excuse me, people!” he says. “This is morally and ethically wrong! So let me make a political statement, boys and girls.” He pulls off his jumper, to reveal a T-shirt reading, “DOP” with a red line through it. “No more!” he shouts above wild applause. “No more!”

Later, Smith tells me he’s been a sufferer since 2004. “I put a sweatshirt I’d been wearing in the garden over my arm and there was this intense burning, sticking sensation. I thought it was cactus spines. I began picking to get them out, but it wasn’t long before it was all over my body.” He describes “almost an obsession. You just can’t stop picking. You feel the sensation of something that’s trying to come out of your skin. You’ve just got to get in there. And there’s this sense of incredible release when you get something out.”

Smith’s exposed skin is covered in waxy scars. Although he still itches, his lesions appear to have healed. If, as morgellons patients believe, the sores are not self-inflicted but caused by fiber-creating parasites, how is this possible? “I absolutely positively stopped picking,” he says.

That evening, at a nearby Mexican restaurant, I meet Margot, a midwife from Ramsgate, on the east coast of England, who has resorted to bathing in bleach to rid herself of morgellons. She describes how, armed with times-three magnification spectacles, a magnifying glass and a nit comb, she scraped “black specks” from her hair and face on to sticky labels and took them to a dermatologist. She was diagnosed with DOP. “I’m a midwife,” she says. “I take urine samples and blood specimens. So I was taking them a specimen. That’s what wrecked my life and career.”

Next, I corner Randy Wymore. He is a slim man with a charcoal shirt, orange tie and neatly squared goatee. “We have not yet exactly replicated the exact results of the forensics people in Tulsa,” he admits. So far, the laboratory has found Wymore’s various morgellons fibers to be: nylon; cotton; a blond human hair; a fungal fiber; a rodent hair; and down, most likely from geese or ducks.

“That’s disappointing,” I say.

He leans his head to one side and smiles. “It is, for the most part, disappointing, but there was a bunch of cellulose that didn’t make sense on one. And another was unknown.” There’s a pause. “Well, they said it was a ‘big fungal fiber,’ but they weren’t completely convinced.”

The next day, nursing practitioner Ginger Savely, who claims to have treated more than 500 morgellons patients, leads an informal discussion in the conference room. Around large circular tables sit the dismissed and the angry. “I’ve seen a fiber go into my glasses,” says one. “I’ve seen one burrow into a pad,” adds another. “One of my doctors thinks it’s nanotechnology”; “I was attacked by a swarm of some type of tiny wasps that seemed to inject parts of their bodies under my skin”; “They have bugs on public transport. Never put your suitcase on the floor of a train.”

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