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    CDC sends Morgellons investigators to California

    Atlanta — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is sending a team of investigators into California as a beginning step in its recently announced decision to investigate Morgellons disease, a mysterious condition heretofore diagnosed by most physicians as a psychotic disorder.

    CDC spokesman Dan Rutz, M.P.H., tells Dermatology Times that at least three investigators (to include an epidemiologist and mental-health and infectious-disease specialists) — and more likely four, including a dermatologist — were to arrive at the end of September and set up shop in the Los Angeles area. According to the Morgellons Research Foundation, Southern California — along with the San Francisco Bay region and parts of Texas and Florida — is one of the "cluster areas" in which the disease has been frequently reported.

    In addition, the CDC has implemented a Morgellons information and voicemail line at (404) 718-1199, which people who believe they may have the disease can call for help.

    "We're trying to cast as wide a net as possible in our effort to investigate Morgellons, which is why we've included the various specialists and want to include a dermatologist," Mr. Rutz says.

    "We actually had planned to start sooner and be in the field already, but we've had to overcome some obstacles and so there have been delays. One of our objectives is to find clinical space in the Los Angeles area."

    Morgellons in the news

    Morgellons disease has received significant publicity over the past couple of years — due largely to the efforts of the nonprofit Morgellons Research Foundation — as something of a mystery affliction.

    Indeed, Morgellons was featured in August in a "Medical Mysteries" segment on ABC's "PrimeTime Live."

    No clinical studies have been done on Morgellons. Its reported symptoms include sensations of crawling, stinging and biting under the skin; skin lesions that range from minor to disfiguring in their appearance; and the appearance of fiber-like material that sometimes can be removed from the lesions as either single strands or clusters of fibrous material. Patients complain of disabling fatigue, joint pain, hair loss, vision problems, neurologic disorders and occasional disintegration of previously healthy teeth. Many sufferers say they have had to quit their jobs.

    Because the body of medical literature regarding treatment of the affliction concludes that it is the result of a delusional disorder, physicians encountering patients with these symptoms prescribe anti-psychotic drugs such as pimozide or risperidone. The CDC decided to investigate Morgellons after receiving numerous communications from "the lay public and clinical people" over recent years, Mr. Rutz says. No officially sanctioned research has been done on Morgellons.

    "It's a step in the right direction that the CDC is sending the team to California and that the information line has been set up," says Mary M. Leitao, executive director of the Morgellons Research Foundation, who established the organization a few years ago after her three children exhibited symptoms of Morgellons.

    Foundation turmoil

    While Ms. Leitao and her foundation colleagues — all volunteers — want to focus their efforts on urging public health agencies and the medical community to accept the possibility that Morgellon's is a disease rather than a psychotic disorder, the organization has had to deal with internal upheaval.

    In what she calls the result of a power struggle, Ms. Leitao and other board members asked for the resignation of board chairman Charles Holman in July, a request with which he refused to comply until a foundation attorney convinced him to step down in August.

    Mr. Holman has alleged financial impropriety on the part of Ms. Leitao, who denies any wrongdoing. Since his resignation, board member Gregory Smith, M.D., and foundation research director Randy Wymore, Ph.D., also have resigned.

    "I am confident that the long-term goals were the same among the various board members — a cure for Morgellons — but the short-term goals and day-to-day operational visions were not shared," says Dr. Wymore, assistant professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University's Center for Health Sciences (OSU-CHS).

    "I am confident that there was no wrong-doing on the part of anyone."

    Dr. Wymore says he still interacts with past and present members of the Morgellons Research Foundation as well as other grassroots Morgellons disease groups, and that his research into Morgellons continues at OSU-CHS.

    William T. Harvey, M.D., a former United States Air Force physician and research scientist who came out of retirement to research Morgellons and served on the foundation's medical advisory board, succeeds Holman as board chairman.

    Bill Gillette
    Bill Gillette is a freelance writer based in Richmond Heights, Ohio.

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