If you have any doubt about how much influence the internet has over the people who use it – people like you and me – just consider Morgellons Disease. (The ‘g’ in Morgellons is a hard ‘g’, like in ‘getaway.’) Morgellons is a rare, but often debilitating disease. The first known case of Morgellons Disease appeared around the year 2000. It is a skin disease. The symptoms include rashes, sores, intense itching, a stinging sensation under the skin, fatigue, and thin threadlike fibers growing in the sores. It is estimated that about 20,000 Americans have been diagnosed with Morgellons Disease. Many of them report that because of this disease, they have been forced to quit their jobs or have become disabled. Joni Mitchell, the songwriter, has been hospitalized repeatedly due to Morgellons Disease.
Now here’s where this story gets weird. (As anyone who knows me can tell you, I know a lot of weird stories.) It appears that the only way that you can get Morgellons Disease is by reading about it on the internet. (Yes, you read that right!) The only thing that everyone who has this disease seems to have in common is that they, or some member of their immediate family, already knew about this disease and knew its symptoms from things they read online before going to a doctor for diagnosis or treatment. In other words, Morgellons Disease is an internet meme. An internet meme is an idea that spreads from person to person via the internet.
It is not unusual for someone to go to a doctor and tell the doctor exactly what is wrong with him if what is wrong is common and common knowledge. For example, consider someone going to a doctor and telling the doctor: “I’m allergic cats. I start sneezing whenever I’m around cats.” That’s normal. A lot of people are allergic to cats, and it is common knowledge that a lot of people are allergic to cats. That happens with common medical problems like a cat allergy; however, that doesn’t happen with rare diseases. When people have rare diseases, like Waldenstroms Macroglobulinemia, (which I cannot pronounce), they don’t go to the doctor and tell the doctor what they’ve got. The doctor tells them. But just the opposite happens with Morgellons Disease. Even though this is a rare disease, nearly everyone who went to a doctor and was diagnosed with Morgellons Disease already knew that he had Morgellons Disease before he went to the doctor and knew more about the disease than the doctor did. That’s not normal.
The U.S. Center For Disease Control (CDC) studied Morgellons Disease for several years and concluded that Morgellons Disease is psychosomatic. The CDC studied 115 people diagnosed with Morgellons Disease selected at random. The CDC analyzed the fibers in the skin sores of these people and found that the fibers were cotton. The CDC concluded that the constant scratching of the skin by people with Morgellons Disease forces fibers of the clothing they are wearing into the wounds they create themselves by their scratching. The CDC no longer tracks reports of Morgellons Disease. The mostly commonly prescribed drugs for the treatment of Morgellons Disease are antidepressants and olanzapine, a drug used for the treatment of schizophrenia and manic episodes of bipolar disorder.
Think about it – Every year, thousands of people around the world are diagnosed by licensed doctors with Morgellons Disease, even though that it appears that the only way you can get this disease is by reading about it on the internet. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? This disease is not alone. It turns out that there are several other diseases that are also spread by the internet. It seems to me that most people still do not realize the awesome power of the internet to shape the way we think and act – and drive us crazy!