Morgellons – A Disease For Our Times?

Great piece in The Guardian about a new disease with the amazingly sci fi-sounding name of Morgellons. Symptoms include excruiating itching and waxy lesions in the skin caused by tiny fibres.  Microscopic organisms and nanotechnology are just two of the suggestions as to the source of the mysterious fibres. There are sufferers worldwide and the docs don’t even know how to diagnose it, let alone treat it.

Except the docs say they know exactly how to diagnose it and it’s not a new disease at all but a well known psychiatric condition called Delusion of Parasitosis, in which sufferers believe (wrongly) that they have been infested. Unlike bacterial or viral disease which is spread through air, water, food or contact, Morgellons is a form of mass hysteria which is being spread by the internet. (And, yes, I’m aware of the irony – but this was too fascinating not to write about.)

That there are real people suffering real discomfort and desperate for relief from their symptoms, whatever the cause, goes without saying. But talk about a disease for the way we live now -Morgellons, unknown fibres, spread by the internet – this sounds like something right out of the sci fi archives.

Of course, sci fi has a long history of using disease as a way of ushering in apocalyptic scenarios. From Mary Shelley’s The Last Man through to Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion due out later this year, mankind and disease have been fertile ground for authors and movie makers.  I’ve only read two books that have explored a nanotech disease – Michael Crichton’s Prey and Jeff Carlson’s Plague Year. And I haven’t come across any which have suggested that a condition with physical symptoms could be spread by the internet, although I’m sure there are some out there. But this is could be the start of a meme that will gather pace as technology and communications embed themselves further into our lives. In the meantime, I shall follow the Morgellons story with interest.

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