Morgellons: An old disease or just a borrowed name?

Theresa Tassey, MS           

Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA


Morgellons has recently been popularized by Mary Leitao to describe an odd set of symptoms. Strange biting and crawling sensations, skin lesions with fibers being emitted from the skin, mental confusion, difficulty with vision, joint pain, and problems concentrating have all been cited from numerous sufferers.  However, the term originates from passages documented by physicians in 16th century Europe that describe an unusual condition.  One account by Sir Thomas Browne inspired the name for the set of symptoms presently described by the term.  C.E. Kellet traces the history of these descriptions and proposes how they may be related.  Within the account by Browne, some epidemiological information as well as detailed descriptions of the disease and treatments that were commonly used can be found.    

The connotation of Morgellons has changed since Browne’s time, where the condition appeared to be well-known.  Today, those that have heard of the disease often possess bias from personal experiences or exposure to one-sided information.  Many debate whether the disease even exists and those that believe it does disagree about its origin.  Treatments for the condition are as plentiful as the ideas concerning its cause. Since little is known about Morgellons, a comparison between the temporally separate forms may lead to a better understanding, treatment and proper definition of the condition being observed today.  

Keywords: Morgellons, unexplained dermopathy, MRF, Mary Leitao, Sir Thomas Browne


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