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Morgellons study begins in Calif.

Sufferers of crawling sensations hope data validate the disease.

January 19, 2008|Jia-Rui Chong | Times Staff Writer

After years of patients' complaints, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a study into a bizarre -- and possibly delusional -- condition known as Morgellons, in which sufferers typically feel crawling sensations and observe fibers coming out of their skin.

The agency first started hearing about the condition from a handful of patients in about 2002. It now receives about 1,200 inquiries a year.

The study will look at patients in Kaiser Permanente's Northern California network because that area has been a hot spot of reported cases.

"We are really at the beginning, I think, of a learning curve about what this condition is and all of its potential manifestations," said Dr. Michele Pearson, a CDC physician who is heading up the study. "Those who suffer from this condition, as well as the family members and physicians who provide care to them, have questions, and we want to help them find meaningful answers."

The study, expected to take a year, will look at patients at Kaiser hospitals in Northern California from July 1, 2006, to Dec. 31, 2007. Researchers will survey probable Morgellons sufferers and collect skin, blood and urine samples.

About 11,000 families in about 16 countries have registered their illnesses with the Morgellons Research Foundation, a group started by Mary M. Leitao, a Pittsburgh mother who found an abnormal rash on her son in 2001. She named the disease after a reference in a 17th century French medical text of "strange hairs" sprouting from children's backs.

"I hope they find quick answers within this small group of patients that will help the larger group of patients very quickly," Leitao said.

Leitao said she hopes the study will help legitimize the disease, which many doctors have diagnosed as delusional parasitosis and treated with anti-psychotic medications.

Dr. Mark Horowitz, a Torrance dermatologist who has seen hundreds complaining of Morgellons, said he hoped the CDC study would settle the uncertainty about the condition: "I believe it's a real entity [but] I'll be very surprised if they find anything more than a psychiatric disease."

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jia-rui.chong@latimes.com

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