CDC Investigates Unexplained Skin Condition

CDC, in conjunction with Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research, has launched a study to learn about an unexplained skin condition known as Morgellons.

Persons who suffer from this condition report a range of symptoms including non-healing skin lesions associated with the emergence of fibers or solid material from the skin, abnormal skin sensations (such as stinging and biting or pins and needles), and non-cutaneous symptoms such as difficulty concentrating and short-term memory loss.

Researchers hope to learn more about who might be affected, what symptoms they experience, and factors that may contribute to their illness. "We earnestly want to learn more about this unexplained illness which impacts the lives of those who suffer from it," said Dr. Michele Pearson, principal investigator leading the study for CDC. "Those who suffer have questions, and we want to help them."

CDC says it will identify patients in Kaiser Permanente's Northern California Health Plan to enroll in the study. The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research was awarded a $338,000 contract to assist CDC in this investigation because of the organization's location in a geographic area where self-reported cases are concentrated--the size of the patient population to draw from (Kaiser Permanente covers approximately 30 percent of the Northern California population)--and its ability to systematically identify Kaiser Permanente patients who may have this unexplained illness.

The primary goals of the investigation are to better describe the clinical and epidemiological features of this condition and to generate hypothesis about possible risk factors. The investigation may take 12 months or longer to complete. Initially investigators will identify and recruit participants and collect detailed information on participants' symptoms and potential factors that may contribute to the condition. Later eligible participants will undergo detailed clinical evaluations, including a general medical examination, dermatologic examination, mental health examination, skin biopsies, and multiple blood tests.

CDC says results of this investigation will most likely be published in its weekly bulletin titled Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or a peer-reviewed scientific journal. A designated Web site, http://www.cdc.gov/unexplaineddermopathy and voice message line with prerecorded messages, 404-718-1199, has been established and will provide updates about the investigation.

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