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This article describes Morgellon's Syndrome, a collection of complaints that people believe are traced to unidentified fibers or "bugs" on or in skin, secretions, and their environment. We include descriptions of the complaints, case histories, and references to additional details about the different types of particles commonly found in the indoor environment.
We include authoritative citations and references to relevant medical journal articles and similar expert sources. Our page top photograph shows a lab photo of ordinary human skin cells, along with some animal dander, fabric fibers stained with acid fuchsin. There are no unusual fibers, bugs, nor other anomalies in this example.
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Morgellon's Disease or Morgellon's Syndrome: health complaints believed to originate in fibers, skin irritation, lesions
What is Morgellon's syndrome or Morgellon's disease?
According to the Mayo Clinic Staff,
Koblenze r has written extensively about psychocutaneous disease, and has described the history and uniqueness of Morgellon's Syndrome named by Sir Thomas Browne in 1674:
List of Common Symptoms & Complaints that People Associate With Morgellon's Syndrome
We have received quite a few complaints from people who trace a variety of irritations and health concerns to unidentified fibers or dust in their environment and who are confident that that material is causing in turn a variety of unusual health and indoor air quality complaints.
Our photo of a skin lesion (shown at left) is not associated with Morgellon's Syndrome and in fact was traced to an acute exposure to airborne Stachybotrys chartarum.
People who are suffering from Morgellon's Syndrome-like complaints (or for that matter any other medical complaint) should not hesitate to seek expert advice, starting with their own physician who knows their medical history &c., and pursuing their complaint with experts in appropriate fields as needed. Most often your own doctor can give the best advice on seeking treatment or further consultation with suitable experts.
Typical Moregellons'-like complaints we have heard from building inspection clients and readers are summarized below, followed by some case histories and reader comments that may be helpful.
Technical Notes about the Usual Contents of House Dust
The common constituents of house dust are fabric fibers and skin cells, with a lower proportion of incidental pollen, mold, dust mite fecals, and where pets are or have been present, animal dander and hair. Other common but lower frequency particles include starch granules, soil particles, and depending on the building and its mechanicals, soot.
Above (left) a client photo shows a heavy and rapid dust accumulation on building surfaces. At above right our lab photo shows that the prime contents of the dust were fabric fibers and starch granules, not building insulation in this case. - DF & WW 6/2010
It is also common to find some fiberglass particles in most buildings, usually traced to building insulation. Carpets in buildings are often a significant source of indoor dust (fabric fibers) as may be other fabrics in environments that use heavy curtains and lots of upholstered furniture.
Readers should note that the level of indoor dust varies widely in buildings building environments. See the following articles for details about building dust:
DUCT SYSTEM & DUCT DEFECTS
Comparing fiberglass and fabric fibers
Our lab photos (below) compare fiberglass fragments with fabric fibers.
Fiberglass Insulation Dust Exposure & Skin Irritation
OPINION-DF: various indoor environmental contaminants may in some cases be associated with skin irritation complaints, including exposure of insulation workers to high levels of contact with fiberglass insulation. In our experience skin irritation from fiberglass insulation generally diminishes rapidly and stops within 24-48 hours of bathing and thorough washing of dusty clothing.
Where we most experience as well as receive complaints of skin irritation traced to fiberglass exposure it is by people installing, demolishing, or stomping around on fiberglass building insulation, particularly in older buildings where foot traffic (in an attic without complete flooring for example) or other activities have damaged the insulation, increasing the proportion of small fiberglass fragments.
Lab Experience With the Presence or Absence of Fibers in Skin Samples
In the indoor environmental samples and even some tape samples of skin surfaces where readers or clients have expressed concern or confidence that unidentified fibers are both cause and symptom, using light microscopy and polarized light microscopy to 1200x magnification we have never found identifiable fibers other than incidental house or clothing dust and fabric fibers at normal levels.
In other words, a careful cross-sectional examination of superficial skin samples in using transmitted light microscopy for the samples we have studied showed without exception that fibers in the sample were adhered to the skin's exposed or outer surface; they were not found growing in or through the skin nor originating from inside the body.
Watch out: it is common (and normal) for to find in lab samples collected of from human skin surfaces some fibers such as those coming from from carpeting, clothing, etc., and on occasion other types of fibers, both natural and manmade both on skin and "apparently" embedded in skin samples.
This is particularly true if a surface sample is collected from a sore or lesion as such skin surfaces are typically more sticky than other skin areas. Such samples can be collected from individuals who have no Morgellon's syndrome complaint as well as people who do. In some cases that we have researched we could identify the probable fiber source by careful comparison of sample fibers to fiber sources in the building such as carpeting or furnishings. Readers should therefore view with caution photographs published at some websites purporting to provide hard evidence that Morgellon's sufferers indeed have unusual or pathogenic fibers erupting from their skin.
Notice: the authors & reviewers are not physicians and do not offer medical diagnostic advice. Here we describe common observations & complaints described by some who might be described as suffering from Morgellon's Syndrome. (Also research delusional parasitosis, Ekbom's syndrome)
We have field and laboratory experience in investigation of the indoor environment and building related health complaints and we report here on the experience of a wide readership base, some of whom report undiagnosed skin irritations that the sufferers are confident are traced to unidentified fibers in their environment. Technical review, critique, comments, content suggestions are invited. Please use the Comments Box found at the end of this article. - DF
For skin-related itch and fiber complaints see your doctor.
In February 2014 The New York Times reported on research into conditions that cause itching using an M.R.I. Scanner, giving new insight into why people itch and why scratching relieves itching. Of interest to people suffering from skin complaints described as itching and diagnosed as Morgellon's disease, a subject person of the Times article was noted to suffer from having been mis-diagnosed as having a mental issue treated by antidepressants when in fact the individual had a rare disease causing itching.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: Question on Morgellons and fiber identification from a Morgellon's Sufferer
I am a Morgellons Sufferer, how would you feel about analyzing my fibers? [I am attaching a ] slide show of 3 different samples, at least you can see the "hair" inside the bag. I have [uploaded] a video on youtube. I took the images with a hand held QX5 Microscope.
All images are the "things" that came out of my skin.
I had the bugs in my skin, but I didn't have a microscope then. I've heard of some 20 pathogens involved in Morgellons.
Fungus is believed to be one of them. - G.P.
Follow-up: G.P. from Melbourne writing. I hope you don't mind me contacting you again. You may recall I mentioned I am a Morgellons Sufferer, how would you feel about analyzing my fibers? See slide show of 3 different samples, sorry the photos are so poor, best I could do. At least you can see the "hair" inside the bag. I have a video on youtube; I took the images with a hand held QX5 Microscope. All images are the "things" that came out of my skin. I had the bugs in my skin, but I didn't have a microscope then. I've heard of some 20 pathogens involved in Morgellons. Fungus is believed to be one of them.
Reply: ordinary house dust, hairs, etc.
I took a look at your photos, but I cannot identify anything that is diagnostic or useful from those images other than to comment that I saw what appear to be hairs (and possibly other fibers) stored in plastic bags.
Your QX5 microscope, while useful for general fiber examination at up to 200x, is unlikely to be adequate to the task of both fiber and small particle identification both because of limitations of the equipment and because training and experience in particle identification are important. To examine and identify fibers or small particles, including fungal spores, insect fragments, or non-fungal debris, requires both proper forensic training in the type of particles being examined and training in microscopy, including the use of high powered light and polarized light microscopy, typically from 400x to 1200x.
GP there are not pathogens (including fungus) reported by medical experts to be at the root explanation of Morgellon's Syndrome. But indeed people suffering from these complaints need to find an experienced, expert dermatologist or similarly qualified physician who is familiar with the complaints, literature on the subject, and methods of treatment.
Question: Help me find someone to fix what is coming out of my carpet and entering my skin and coming out of my face; my skin hangs
Please help me find someone. what ever is coming from my 35 year old carpet has entered me and coming out of my face and has cause my entire skin to hang. i filed a violation of health and safety with the attorney general against the owner. all my property is ruined and she has never come to see the sludge when i called her in august. her reply to them said nothing related to any charges just rambled on me needing help. my social worker confronted her and said the carpet is a health hazard and needs to be replaced.
The owner tore into her with outrageous lies and will not replace the carpet. I was told by the assistant attorney "that was foolish to tell your social worker-that's your best witness". i can't even look at myself. the hair on my face doesn't grow now. I'm 67 and she want's me out and constantly using my disability report against me. I have doctors letters negating her slander remarks which were filed also filed. it has become so aggressive and i'm scared. the health departments are worthless. thank you. - Jason 5/17/2012
Question: fine dust, powder, green mold in our home wipes off of my furniture and my skin
l am having some serious mold issues I think and it is creating problems between me and my husband. We had a roof leak that went on for quite awhile it came through my textured ceiling and my husband just knocked down the big lump it made on the ceiling and patched the roof but the mold itself was never cleaned. I then started finding these little black specks on my clothes. My husband said it was just lint. I started breaking out with sores all over my body wherever my clothes touched. I ended up getting a bacterial staph infection. Well I was told that was what I had.
I keep finding lots of dust build up and a fine powder substance on the furniture and when I wipe it it is green. I also was cleaning my skin and was exfoliating and the stuff coming off me was green.
Could this be mold on my body? When I put on my clothing if there is any black specks on it my body will immediately start itching and burning wherever the black specks are touching. I am getting clothe out of my dresser drawer and they are covered in these black specks. we do not have any bugs have already been checked out for that. My wood paneling in my living room is turning black in places and then it will rot through in some places.
Could mold be causing all these things. Also the things I find on my clothes I have to pull them off with tweezers . Its almost like they are deeply imbedded in the clothing. It has eaten holes through my clothes. And the fine powder substance was all over my duffle bag and had 4 holes all the way through it. I need someone to explain this to me so I can explain it to my husband. He refuses to believe we have a mold problem. If you could let me know something as soon as possible it would be greatly appreciated I am concerned for me and my children's health. - A.D.
Question: disturbances, shimmying type of sensation, dizziness, sleep deprived
I am writing to you because I have been experiencing disturbances of a, as of yet, un-determined source. These disturbances wake me from sleep at night, sometimes with a shimmying type of sensation, though nothing around me is obviously moving. Sometimes I have difficulty falling asleep and feel uneasy (NOTE: this does not happen to me when I sleep elsewhere, other than my apartment. And, I am a good sleeper, usually falling asleep when my head hits the pillow. And, I can sleep through construction.) Over time I become dizzy and or disorientated, not to mention sleep deprived. My heart rate seems sometimes affected. My ears can hurt, and once almost felt as if the eardrum would rupture. The nature of these disturbances do not include any obvious "sound". And, might not be normally detected if one weren't trying to sleep or rest. I wonder if these are electrical type charges, or of a sound nature that is outside the normally audible ranges. - RLT - 6/16/11
Reply: for the above and similar sufferers: consult your personal doctor, ask for a referral to a suitable expert physician
For most of these sufferers and similar readers, you want to find an experienced, expert dermatologist or similarly qualified physician who is familiar with the complaints, literature on the subject, and methods of treatment. In my experience the best place to start is with your own physician who knows you and your medical history. Ask him/or her for an appropriate referral.
Question: big problem with heavy dust fibers and fragments, maybe insulation; scratching sores
Fragments of something,and a large amount of dust keeps flying around in our house. Please we need some kind of help.
The problems we are having are getting worse,and we could really use some help. Could you tell us who you think may be able to help us. The biggest problem we have is,all this extra heavy dust fibers,and other fragments of possibly some kind of insulation, being on the inside of our house. We don't really know for sure what it is, or what is causing it.We have had a few people look at it,one of the contractors thought that the heating and cooling system may be starved for air,with not enough air returns going into the system. We had one additional air return temporarily put in to see if it would help. At first that did help,but now over time of a few weeks,it's getting bad.and continues to get worse each day the way it seems.
I have sores all over me.Soon as I get one healed up,another takes it's place.Our inside dog is also getting sore spots on her,and she constantly scratching at her feet,and bottom side. We have always put Frontline on her and never had any problems in the past with any kind of fleas,or other bugs. I have kept some of the fragments that I have found on myself,and on furniture in our house,and off some of our clothing. If we could get someone to check this stuff out,and tell us what it is,it may help us in finding out where it is coming from,and how to fix our problem. - K.G. 8/2/12
We sure do need some kind of help. We are at the end of our rope and don’t know what to do . We have been having this problem for way over a year. There is some kind of fragments of insulation possibly and other kinds of fragments that are floating around in our house and we don’t know what it is, and we don’t know for sure where it is coming from. We keep finding these fragments and a large amount of dust is always on everything.
My self have sores all over my body from this stuff, and our dog is always scratching, and licking her legs, and, feet, her back end. My husband is a farmer he isn't in the house very much. Therefore he doesn't have all the sores like I do. I am disabled from a car wreck that I had back in 1981. I have had over 15 back operations, and I am in the house all the time. My dog is also in the house all the time. We are both in this stuff all the time.
We have a extra large amount of a whitish dust, and other small fragments of stuff that we don’t know what it is. We have had our ducts looked at, and they said they looked good. We also have had a house inspector come to the house to check it out. He said he didn’t know what it was, or how it is getting in the house. We have had several contractors come and inspect the house. They also didn’t know what this stuff is for sure, or where this stuff is coming from. It almost has to be connected to our heating, and cooling system. We have had some problems in the past with this new system we had put in back in around 2003.
We had 3 tornados hit us last spring , and it seems the problems started getting a lot worse after that .Some of the contractors that we had in to look at the house .They thought that the heating and cooling system he have may need some more return air registers put in. They hooked up one additional return air register to see if that would help. That did seem to help some, but we still had stuff floating around in the house.
After about 2 weeks it started getting worse again. It is now bad, and seems to be getting worse. We don’t know what to do anymore. I’m at the end of my rope. We were going to try to send some samples of this stuff in but, we don’t know how much it will cost us for each sample we send in . We would appreciate any help you can give us. - K.G. 8/9/12
From your note it seems that what might be helpful would be a more careful site inspection and perhaps a few dust samples that are examined to help you confirm that there are abnormal dust or particle levels, identify harmful or irritating materials that might be present, and track down the source of the material - since cleaning without fixing the source is just a short term Band-Aid.
To that end you might try contacting some of the inspection professionals in your immediate area, or take a look at
MOLD & ENVIRONMENTAL INSPECTORS is a directory of mold consultants, mold inspectors, people who perform mold testing, and who can prepare a mold remediation plan - a mold cleanup plan to guide the mold remediation contractor
MOLD CLEANUP COMPANIES is a directory of mold remediation (mold cleanup companies) who might, IF APPROPRIATE, do some extra high level cleaning in your home
As for mailing settled dust samples, an easy way to collect a sample of settled dust for lab characterization is to use the procedure at TEST KITS for DUST, MOLD, PARTICLE TESTS. Choose a horizontal surface that has a week or two of settled dust on it, located in a room where you spend a lot of time. One sample of representative dust, or a sample of settled dust along with a second of the material you suspect of being a problem should be enough for a competent forensic laboratory to determine if there are unusual particles in the sample as well as what the dominant particles are.
In some cases we will accept and process up to four dust samples at no fee (pro bono) for people in your situation but our lab is on assignment out of the country for several months, so you'll need to use a different forensic laboratory.
I do not recommend spending significant amounts on "testing" nor on inspections of the home before you have consulted with your doctor and perhaps also have had a referral to a suitable medical expert.
Question/Comment: disagrees about emergence of fibers through skin in Morgellon's Syndrome
I have just read an entry under 'Morgellons Disease or Morgellon's Syndrome'
It certainly reflect the views of psychiatrists and doctors who never went much further than what they learned at medical school. It totally fails to give a balanced picture of the issue. Indeed, in the bibliography used to illustrate the item, all listings refer to psychiatric sources!
Whilst some who claim to suffer from this disease are actually suffering delusional parasitosis (the whole thrust of the entry), there are hundreds of thousands who have very real clinical conditions. In this respect the article is highly incorrect especially about the emergence of the fibres. It claims they are from clothing or the environment. It simply is not true. There is plenty of clinical evidence showing fibres emerging from beneath the skin. They have also been analyzed, completely disproving support for comments in the article.
I am not a doctor but a sufferer who has met and spoken to researchers and medics working at the cutting edge in this field. I am also a journalist with a scientific background. I do hope you will amend the entry as it is not only misleading and highly biased but could lead to people being unable to seek real treatment that would alleviate their symptoms. Such items also serve to inhibit funding for vital research too.
I would be delighted to help you with any further information. - B.R. 12/26/2012
Thank you for your article critique and remarks about Morgellon's syndrome - it helps us realize where we need to work on making our text more clear or more complete. That said, here are some things to consider:
We have examined both environments (air, dust, materials, HVAC, mechanicals, IAQ etc) in buildings where an occupant has complaints that resemble those associated with Morgellon's Syndrome as well as examining in our forensic laboratory samples from skin, hair, even some bodily secretions, to check for the presence of the fibers and particles described by complainants. In no case have we been able to detect fiberglass nor other fibers (nor biological creatures such as bugs) actually erupting from within body tissues as sufferers describe. We have detected clothing and other fibers stuck to the exterior surface of both skin and skin lesions in areas of scratching, scabs, etc. A cross-sectional analysis of those samples we've examined did not find evidence of a source of fibers emanating from the body interior.
We also have some experience with neurologically-induced itching and skin complaints and have in some cases observed skin irritations, even severe lesions that resulted from an individual whose discomfort led to repeated scratching. Itching reactions can also be drug induced, such as as a side effect of some pain-killers and narcotics.
We understand with sympathy the frustration that arises when dealing with a frightening or troublesome complaint that lacks a clear explanation as to its root cause, and thus can understand the ensuing temptation to assign a particular cause regardless of the research and expert opinions to the contrary.
In our OPINION, people should indeed seek expert diagnosis & appropriate treatment when suffering from any complaint, but at the same time we should be cautious about over-confidence in our own self-diagnosis or in explanations which cannot be verified by empirical evidence and good science.
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