Morgellons disease causes black, white, red, or blue fibers to appear under the skin or protrude from it. People may also feel like something is crawling under their skin. The exact cause is unclear, and treatment can vary.

Morgellons disease remains a controversial topic among researchers and healthcare professionals, as there is little information about the condition.

This article reviews what researchers and experts have to say about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of Morgellons disease.

View the slideshow below for photos of what Morgellons disease looks like.

There are no standard treatment guidelines for Morgellons disease. Treatments vary depending on what a person’s doctor believes is the underlying cause.

For example, some doctors may recommend antibiotic therapy if they believe that an individual’s condition is due to a bacterial infection or tick-borne illness. Topical and oral antibiotics may also help heal open or long lasting skin lesions.

Doctors who believe that a person’s symptoms result from a mental health condition may prescribe psychiatric medication, such as anti-anxiety or antipsychotic drugs.

Due to the controversial nature of the condition, a good relationship between a person and their doctor can have a major impact on the overall outcome of the disease. According to a 2018 study, a person should develop a strong relationship with their doctor to develop a holistic approach that will address both physical and psychological needs as necessary.

The exact cause of Morgellons disease remains unclear. The scientific community is divided between those who believe it is a purely psychological disorder and those who believe it may be due to a pathogen.

Some researchers and healthcare professionals classify it as a delusional mental illness, stating that the fibers present under the skin come from fabrics and textiles.

In the 2012 study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined 115 people with symptoms of Morgellons disease. The team performed clinical evaluations, analyzed skin and blood samples, and reviewed the medical history of each participant. However, they did not find a common underlying medical condition or infectious agent among them.

The scientists also reported that 43% of the biopsied skin lesions had fibrous material in at least one skin lesion. After further analysis, they concluded that most fiber samples contained cotton. However, they identified bacteria or fungi in 19 people.

None of the study participants tested positive for B. burgdorferiinfections. B. burgdorferi causes Lyme disease.

Similarly, in a 2017 case study, researchers documented the experience of a 30-year-old woman who claimed they had Morgellons disease. According to the authors, the individual reported having skin lesions on their arms, hands, and chin, which had lasted for 2 months. They also had a fibrous-like projection under her skin.

The individual did not show signs of a B. burgdorferiinfection, and their doctor advised them to seek psychiatric treatment.

Lyme disease

Other researchers claim B. burgdorferi causes or has associations with Morgellons disease. For example, the authors of a 2015 study found B. burgdorferi in 24 out of the 25 participants with Morgellons disease. They also examined skin samples from each participant, many of which contained fiber-like materials.

Following further analysis, the researchers concluded that the fibers contained human skin cells. They found that the fibers originated from hair follicles, not fabric.

In a 2018 study involving 1,000 people with Lyme disease, 6% of these individuals had Morgellons disease and tested positive for B. burgdorferi. Of those with Morgellons disease, 77% had at least one additional infection.

Psychological conditions or an infectious agent, such as Lyme disease, may be responsible for Morgellons disease. However, more research is necessary to confirm the cause of the condition.

Learn about how a person contracts Lyme disease.

The general consensus suggests that Morgellons disease is not contagious.

The CDC published a study in 2012 indicating that no individual infection caused the condition.

However, a 2018 review of relevant studies indicated that Morgellons disease may have a more physical cause, which could make it contagious. In their review, researchers noted that the fibers often present in the lesions are not textile — referring to synthetic material — but actually originate from cells deeper in the skin.

They also noted that several studies showed a correlation between Lyme disease and Morgellons disease, which could indicate an infectious agent is responsible for the condition. As part of their evidence, they noted that both dogs and cattle can develop similar lesions related to similar bacteria.

Morgellons disease is a rare skin condition involving the appearance of black, white, red, or blue fibers underneath or protruding from the skin.

People living with Morgellons disease may also develop slow-healing ulcers on their skin.

Other symptoms of Morgellons disease may include:

  • chronic or severe fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • memory problems
  • muscle and joint pain
  • formication, the sensation of an insect crawling on, stinging, or biting the skin
  • joint pain
  • neuropathy

A doctor may diagnose Morgellons disease if a person has slow-healing skin lesions and skin-crawling sensations. If a healthcare professional finds fiber-like material in the skin lesions, they may send a sample to a laboratory for further analysis.

Blood tests and skin samples may reveal signs of a bacterial infection, which might involve the B. burgdorferi bacterium. People can also develop secondaryinfections due to having an open wound.

Doctors may refer someone to a psychiatrist for further evaluation if the person experiences symptoms of depression or anxiety or has a history of mental illness.

Although health experts do not know much about Morgellons disease, the condition itself does not appear to be life threatening. As a result, a person with the condition should live a typical lifespan according to their overall health.

However, a person with the condition has a higher risk of developing skin infections due to frequent picking at their skin. An individual should work with their doctor to develop an effective treatment plan for them to help prevent developing a skin infection.

People may wish to contact their doctor if they:

  • develop open skin wounds with no apparent cause
  • have long lasting skin wounds
  • find fibers embedded in or protruding from their skin
  • experience joint or muscle pain
  • feel extremely tired most days
  • experience memory or concentration problems

Here are some frequently asked questions about Morgellons disease.

Is Morgellons disease psychological?

Some researchers believe that Morgellons disease is a psychological condition. However, some research suggests that it might have links with Lyme disease.

What can be mistaken for Morgellons disease?

According to a 2020 report, Morgellons disease can appear similar to Ekbom’s syndrome, also called delusional parasitosis. Delusional parasitosis is a psychiatric condition where the individual believes they have a parasite infection when they do not.

How many people have been diagnosed with Morgellons disease?

Morgellons disease affects around 14,000 people worldwide, according to data from 2009.

Is Morgellons disease genetic?

Some research suggests that genetic predisposition may contribute to the development of Morgellons disease. However, the exact cause is unclear.

Morgellons disease is a rare and poorly understood condition that causes chronic skin wounds that can contain black, white, red, or blue fibers.

People with Morgellons disease report a wide range of symptoms, including crawling sensations in their skin, joint and muscle pain, and memory problems.

The exact cause of the condition remains unclear. Some healthcare professionals and researchers believe Morgellons disease results from a tick-borne bacterial infection, similar to Lyme disease, while others believe it is a mental health disorder.