Doctors research rare skin disease

January 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
No one's sure what it is, but some Bay Area doctors are working to figure it out.

For now, they're calling it moregellons: a condition with bizarre symptoms including "thread-like fibers" protruding from the skin.

The first federally-funded research will be done in the Bay Area, because so many of the patients live in the area.

"They don't look like any recognized skin rash that you've seen," said Dr. Joe Selby from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California.

Rashes, lesions, even fibers protruding from underneath skin; these are all symptoms of a condition known as morgellons.

"It has appeared in increasing numbers over the last several years and the CDC has been getting an increasing number of reports of this condition from across the country," said Dr. Selby.

Dr. Joe Selby of Kaiser's division of research is heading up a first of its kind study, with the CDC to find out what exactly is plaguing thousands of Americans, and many live in the Bay Area.

"It almost seems like you could see little lines underneath the skin," said morgellons sufferer Julie Karnes.

For the past five years, Julie Karnes says small, multi colored fibers have been growing underneath her skin.

Doctors recently removed this sample from her arm.

"This is beyond my imagination, I've just been dealing with it, going to the doctors was the hardest part, saying they don't believe it," said Karnes.

The skeptics are plentiful -- considering there are fewer than 2,000 families who've reported the illness in California.

Science has simply 'not' found unknown bugs or other foreign bodies, as reported by patients, crawling under anyone's skin.

Many doctors think those with morgellons suffer from a mental disorder.

"And then they begin to focus on those lesions and try to get at them, better usually by picking out their fibers or the bugs or whatever it is," said Chief of dermatology of New York Saint Luke's Roosevelt Medical Center Dr. Vincent Deleo.

Then again, there's also never been a concise, long term study of the condition until now.

Kaiser will focus on patients in Northern California. Blood and skin samples will be taken in the Bay Area, and then sent to the CDC for testing.

While answers could take up to a year, Julie Karnes plans on tracking the study, and keeping fellow Bay Area morgellons sufferers updated through her support group web site.


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