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CDC To Launch Study on Unexplained Illness


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in conjunction with Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research 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 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.

“CDC is taking a multifaceted approach to this investigation with other external partners including the Armed Forces Pathology Institute,” Dr. Pearson said. “We have a team of epidemiologists, laboratorians, and pathologists to carry out the study,” Dr. Pearson added. 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.

Results of this investigation will most likely be published in CDC’s weekly bulletin called the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report or a peer-reviewed scientific journal. A designated web site and voice message line with prerecorded messages (404-718-1199) has been established and will provide updates about the investigation and new information as it becomes available. Interested persons are encouraged to visit the CDC’s Unexplained Dermopathy/Morgellons web site ( to obtain current information about CDC activities related to this condition.


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