Earlier this week, legendary singer Joni Mitchell was rushed to the hospital after fainting at her home in Bel Air, California. While still under observation by doctors, an update provided to fans said the 71-year-old is resting comfortably and that "she continues to improve and get stronger each day."
What was not disclosed was the exact illness Mitchell is suffering from, leading to speculation that Morgellons disease, a health condition she's spoken about in the past, might be responsible.
"I have this weird, incurable disease that seems like it's from outer space," she told the LA Times in 2010. "Fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral. Morgellons is a slow, unpredictable killer — a terrorist disease: it will blow up one of your organs, leaving you in bed for a year."
If that sounds like something awful that deserves more attention from the medical community, there are others out there suffering from similar symptoms who share your concern. Doctors, however, are split on what exactly Morgellons is, with some believing it is psychosomatic and others believing it's a real unexplained condition, or even possibly a complication related to tick-borne illnesses.
In a 2012 study on Morgellons, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defined the disease as "a poorly characterized constellation of symptoms, with the primary manifestations involving the skin." After finding no parasites or mycobacteria, the panel concluded that the symptoms were not caused by an infection or environmental agent, but may be associated with what's termed a "delusional infestation." The skin fibers collected during the study were found to have come from "environmental sources," mainly composed of cotton. In a separate summary, the CDC determined that it would not "be helpful to perform additional testing for infectious diseases as a potential cause."
Researchers involved in studying both tick-borne diseases and Morgellons conducted their own study in 2013 on the mysterious filaments that contradicted the CDC's findings. After collecting fibers from a group of four patients with classic Morgellons symptoms, they exposed the filaments under an electron microscope and discovered them to be "keratin and collagen in composition" and originating from within the epidermis. It's interesting to note that all four patients had also previously tested positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, a causative agent of Lyme disease.
Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who specializes in itches affecting the body, told the Guardian that whatever Morgellons is, those who have it are experiencing true discomfort.
"In my experience, Morgellons patients are doing the best they can to make sense of symptoms that are real. They're suffering from a chronic itch disorder that's undiagnosed. They have been maltreated by the medical establishment. And you are welcome to quote me on that," she said.
As for Joni Mitchell, while it's as-yet unclear whether Morgellons is responsible for her current condition, she has said in the past that she fully intends to do more to raise awareness about the disease.
"I'm a polio survivor, so I know how conservative the medical body can be," she added to the LA Times. "In America, the Morgellons is always diagnosed as 'delusion of parasites,' and they send you to a psychiatrist. I'm actually trying to get out of the music business to battle for Morgellons sufferers to receive the credibility that's owed to them."
Related on MNN:
- 5 diseases more worrisome than Ebola
- 8 deadly diseases cured by modern science
- Avril Lavigne's Lyme disease battle highlights risk of tick-borne illnesses