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Louisiana Office of Public Health – Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section                                                                     Page 1 of 3 









Delusional Parasitosis and Morgellons Disease 


Revised 02/28/2012 



Delusional Parasitosis 


     Delusional parasitosis, also known as Ekbom's syndrome, is a form of psychosis 

whose victims acquire a strong delusional belief that they are infested with parasites, 

whereas in reality no such parasites are present. Very often the imaginary parasites are 

reported as being "bugs" or insects crawling on or under the skin; in these cases the expe-

rience of the sensation (known as formication) may provide the basis for this belief. De-

lusional parasitosis, with symptoms that have "extraordinary similarities" to Morgellons, 

has been described in the medical literature for over 75 years. 


     The false belief of delusional parasitosis stands in contrast to actual cases of parasito-

sis, such as scabies. 


     People with delusional parasitosis are likely to ask for help not from psychiatrists but 

from dermatologists, veterinarians, pest control specialists, or entomologists. Because 

delusional parasitosis is not at all well known to non-specialists, under those circums-

tances the condition often goes undiagnosed, or may be incorrectly diagnosed. 


     Delusional parasitosis is seen more commonly in women; the frequency is much high-

er past the age of 40 years.  


Presentation: Details of delusional parasitosis vary among sufferers, but is most common-

ly described as involving:  


   Perceived parasites crawling upon or burrowing into the skin, sometimes accompa-

nied by an actual physical sensation (formication).  


   Self mutilation: Individuals suffering from this condition may develop elaborate ri-

tuals of inspection and cleansing to locate and remove "parasites" and fibers, resulting 

in a form of self-mutilation; they injure themselves in attempts to be rid of the "para-

sites" by picking at the skin, causing lesions, and then pick at the lesions, preventing 

them from healing.  


   Folie en famille: Some are able to induce the condition in others through sugges-

tion, in which case the term ‘folie à deux’ may be applicable. A significant minority of 

delusional parasitosis cases occur in groups of two, three, or more individuals in close 

proximity, even families, known by the French terms ‘folie à deux’, ‘folie à trois’, and 

‘folie en famille’. 


   The match box sign: Nearly any marking upon the skin, or small object or particle 

found on the person or their clothing, can be interpreted as evidence for the parasitic in-

Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section 

Office of Public Health,  

Louisiana Dept of Health & Hospitals 

800-256-2748 (24 hr number)


Louisiana Office of Public Health – Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section                                                                     Page 2 of 3 




festation, and sufferers commonly compulsively gather such "evidence", and then 

present it to medical professionals when seeking help. This presenting of "evidence" is 

known as "the matchbox sign" because the "evidence" is frequently presented in a small 

container, such as a matchbox 


   Symptoms associated with delusional parasitosis, including urticaria (hives), pares-

thesia (unexplained tingling sensations in the skin), and pruritus, are common side-

effects of many prescription drugs or drug abuse. The sensations are real, but the attri-

bution of the sensations to unknown parasites along with the collection of fibers is part 

of the delusion. 


Delusory Cleptoparasitosis: A form of delusion of parasitosis where the sufferer believes 

the infestation is in their dwelling, rather than on or in their body.  


Treatment: It is also characteristic that sufferers will reject the diagnosis of delusional 

parasitosis by medical professionals; very few are willing to be treated, despite demonstr-

able efficacy of treatment. 


     Treatment of secondary forms of delusional parasitosis are addressed by treating the 

primary associated psychological or physical condition. The primary form is treated 

much as other delusional disorders and schizophrenia. In the past, pimozide was the drug 

of choice when selecting from typical antipsychotics. Currently, atypical antipsychotics 

such as olanzapine or risperidone, are used as first line treatment. 





     The term "Morgellons" was introduced by Leitao in 2004 to describe a skin condition 

characterized by a range of cutaneous (skin) symptoms including crawling, biting, and 

stinging sensations, finding fibers on or under the skin, and persistent skin lesions (e.g., 

rashes or sores). A majority of health professionals, including most dermatologists, re-

gard Morgellons as a manifestation of other known medical conditions, including delu-

sional parasitosis and believe any fibers found are from textiles, such as clothing. The 

Morgellons Research Foundation, a non-profit advocacy organization, believes that it is a 

new infectious disease that will be confirmed by future research. Other health profession-

als do not acknowledge Morgellons disease, or are reserving judgment until more is 

known about the condition. 


Mayo Clinic Study: A study conducted of 108 patients at the Mayo Clinic was published 

in the Archives of Dermatology on May 16, 2011. The study failed to find evidence of 

skin infestation despite doing skin biopsies and examining specimens provided by the 

patients. The study, which was conducted between 2001 and 2007, concluded that the 

feeling of skin infestation was a delusion - delusional parasitosis. 


CDC Investigation of Morgellons: Following a mailing campaign coordinated by the 

Morgellons Research Foundation in which self-described sufferers clicked on the founda-

tion Web site and sent thousands of form letters to members of Congress, a Centers for 

Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) task force first met in June 2006. The task force 

Louisiana Office of Public Health – Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section                                                                     Page 3 of 3 




consisted of 12 people, including two pathologists, a toxicologist, an ethicist, a mental 

health expert and specialists in infectious, parasitic, environmental and chronic diseases.  


     In June 2007, the CDC opened a website on "Unexplained Dermopathy (aka 

'Morgellons'). By November 2007, the CDC had announced an investigation process, 

stating that, "The primary goals of the investigation are to better describe the clinical and 

epidemiologic features of this condition and to generate hypotheses about possible risk 

factors."  Kaiser Permanente in Northern California was chosen to assist with the investi-

gation, which began after the scientific protocols and a review board structure had been 

prepared and approved.  Investigators planned to report on the geographic distribution of 

the illness, and estimate rates of illness in affected communities. The investigation in-

volved skin biopsies from affected patients, and characterization of foreign material such 

as fibers or threads obtained from patients to determine their potential source.  


     In January 2008 it was reported that the CDC was enlisting the aid of the U.S. Armed 

Forces Institute of Pathology and the American Academy of Dermatology "to conduct 

'immediate' and 'rigorous' research." 


     On January 25, 2012 the CDC released the results of the study - finding no infectious 

or environmental links. The study consisted of skin biopsies, blood tests, and interviews 

of over 100 Morgellons patients; it yielded no evidence of an infection (bacterial, fungal, 

or otherwise), or common environmental factor causing the problems. Laboratory analy-

sis of the threads found by participants revealed nothing unusual, but consisted of cotton 

and other materials likely to be found in clothing. The researchers could not find any ex-

planation for sensations participants reported under their skin and suggested these could 

be “delusional infestation,” wherein people falsely believe their bodies are being invaded 

by small organisms. Various Morgellons groups responded to the results of the studies by 

saying it confirmed their expectations that the government-run study is trying to cover up 

larger issues. Jan Smith, owner and operator of "Morgellons Exposed", a site which hosts 

her theories on the cause of Morgellons (including alien nano-technology implants), be-

lieved the problem was more than a medical condition and responded, “There’s some-

thing being hidden.” 



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