Monday, May 17, 2004
A Medical Mystery: Delusional parasitosis For more than three years Reno resident Theresa Blodgett, 37, has had a mystery disease that seems like a plot device from the television show “The X-Files.”

Blodgett’s symptoms include feeling invisible “parasites” biting her skin. She complains of overwhelming fatigue and body aches. She suffers from hair loss, skin lesions, rashes, and blue or red “fibers” that sprout from her lesions. She sees tiny black specks — like coffee grounds — on her arms.

More than a dozen doctors have told her the cause of her strange ailment is in her mind.

But a controversial new theory says many people who are branded with delusions of parasitosis are suffering from a physical illness, not a mental disease. Enlarged images of the “parasites” are posted on several Web sites and a Texas doctor said he has found biological causes and physical evidence for many of the symptoms described by Blodgett and others.

Dr. William Harvey of Houston said many of his chronic fatigue patients, including 17 with “mystery disease” symptoms, have tested positive for borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that also causes Lyme disease. He suspects the weird symptoms and parasites are not the cause of the illness, but are opportunistic infections and organisms taking advantage of the lowered skin immunity of people whose systems are weakened by the microbe.

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