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Scientists debate cause of feared 'worms-under-skin' disease
Posted By Chelsea Schilling On 05/15/2008 @ 10:25 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled
Lesions on person suffering from Morgellons disease
Scientists are debating whether a debilitating condition called Morgellons disease could be caused by bacteria or fungus on plants in California, Texas and Florida, though many agree that research is leaving them with more questions than answers.
While there are many unfounded theories about the cause of Morgellons disease, including alien abduction and government conspiracies, some have attempted to draw a link between the mysterious illness and genetically modified food by suggesting engineered crops may contain bacterium responsible for the disease.
What is Morgellons disease?
Dr. Vitaly Citovsky of the Morgellons Research Foundation said the condition has many reported symptoms that have virtually stumped scientists.
“Generally, people complain of an appearance of fibers in their skin,” he told WND. “It itches. There’s some inflammation, skin lesions, and they complain that it generally affects their well-being with fatigue similar to Lyme disease. Some people complain of psychological conditions. We cannot define it precisely.”
Other commonly reported symptoms include:
The Morgellons Research Foundation reported that approximately 10,000 U.S. families with Morgellons symptoms registered with the organization prior to February 2007. Of all individuals reporting, 24 percent lived in California, and a disproportionate number resided in the San Francisco metropolitan area.
Magnified image of fibers from Morgellons sufferer
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a Jan. 16 statement indicating that Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research has received a $338,000 grant to to learn more about Morgellons, an affliction it refers to as a “skin condition.”
However, Dr. Ahmed Kilani, president and CEO of Clongen Laboratories and a specialist in infectious disease detection, told WND the illness is much more than a mere skin condition.
“It spreads between individuals,” he said. “Unlike infection, this is something much more serious. People die from complications because the disease is more than skin deep. It’s not just a skin condition that causes lesions. It goes into the stomach and impacts the G.I. tract and causes brain conditions.”
Link between Morgellons and genetically altered crops?
Plant tumor caused by Agrobacterium
Citovsky sees a connection between the mysterious Morgellons disease fibers and a type of bacteria that causes tumors in plants, called Agrobacterium.
“Agrobacterium species are known to be found in patients in hospital settings,” Citovsky told WND. “The person is often weakened and has some skin lesions or some other roots of infection, and like any other bacteria, Agrobacterium can go there and just proliferate using the skin as a medium for its growth. So, if you have a lesion, and you work in the garden, you’ll get all kinds of dirt in there and germs among the Agrobacterium.”
Citovsky explained that the bacterium is present in virtually all soil and is often used to genetically alter crops.
“A year ago, we took biopsies from the skin of patients,” he said. “We looked for the presence of genetic material of Agrobacterium mutations. Agrobacterium is bacterium that is used also, among other things, in genetic engineering of plants.”
Dr. Stanton Gelvin, a professor at Purdue University College of Science who has studied the bacterium for nearly 30 years, said, “Agrobacterium is the means by which DNA is transferred to the plant. After the DNA is transferred to the plant, [genetic engineers] use antibiotics and kill the Agrobacterium. So there’s no Agrobacterium around, and now you have a plant with new genes in it.”
Both Gelvin and Citovsky said there are no traces of the bacterium in plant tissue following genetic alteration. Though many patients have tested positive for it, they vehemently protest any suggestion that humans can have genetically altered cells and contract Morgellons disease by eating engineered crops treated with Agrobacterium.
“That idea is total lunacy,” Citovsky said. “It has nothing to do with it. Forget this mumbo jumbo people use, environmentalists for some unknown reason, when they are protesting against genetically engineered plants. Those plants feed millions of people who are hungry and dying. It has nothing to do with the disease.”
Bacteria or fungi?
San Francisco Bay area
Dr. Kilani reviewed two samples of fibers from Morgellons patients and extracted DNA from the strands. His research indicated the fibers could come from a fungus.
“Everyone has their own theories about this, but I don’t think it’s connected to Agrobacterium,” he said. “I think it’s another organism that has not been described in clinical medicine. It could be a fungus or a parasite or something more complex than bacteria.”
Kilani said he thinks Morgellons disease could be linked to areas of the U.S. with swamp land and wet areas because there has been a high prevalence of disease reports in the San Francisco Bay Area and other places with bodies of water and high levels of humidity, such as Texas and Florida.
“There is something in the environment,” Kilani said. “It is probably linked to plants, yes. Maybe it lives on plants, and it adapted to the human host.”
Citovsky, however, provided a simple explanation for increased Morgellons disease reports in the three states.
“Who knows,” he said. “Maybe people complain more there.”
A scientific mystery
Kilani said scientists don’t have the support to investigate Morgellons disease because they are short on funds and resources.
“Nobody thinks it’s a disease, so that is part of the problem. Until they do, it’s going to continue spreading. It’s in households, so when one individual is infected, we find out that the rest of the household is infected.”
Fibers removed from facial lesion of 3-year-old boy
Though many people, even members of the medical science community, do not believe Morgellons is a legitimate disease, Kilani said he receives as many as 10 calls every day from people who identify themselves as having the symptoms. He refuses to accept the notion that it is a fabricated illness.
“No, this can’t be,” he said. “Not almost a half-million patients, no. I have met people from all walks of life: High-powered attorneys, physicians, nurses, actors, actresses, athletes. They go nuts after awhile. They become socially rejected because of the way they look. The whole thing is just a disaster.”
Kilani said Kaiser Permanente is the first and only recipient of funding for Morgellons research from the CDC, but he doesn’t think the grant will be enough to help scientists determine if Morgellons disease is caused by bacteria, fungi or any other environmental factor.
“I’m not sure how far that will go because $338,000 is a drop in the bucket,” he said. It’ll be spent in a week. It’s just not enough money. Whoever gets funding and can investigate this problem is going to make a huge contribution because there are lots of people with this illness.”
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