By Joseph Keleher
I noted likely connections to mercury while reviewing some early DOP (delusion of parasitosis) accounts. While it is difficult to draw a direct line between mercury exposure and the symptom set once referred to as DOP, enough probable connections exist to merit a review by a qualified medical researcher (or researchers). Patient exposure falls into use of mercury as a medicinal for treating syphilis and use of cosmetics containing mercury. Each is briefly discussed below. As mercurial skin creams are still in use in some parts of the world, some relevant cases are presented.
Mercury was used to treat syphilis over a span of 450 years until the introduction of penicillin in 1943 (Tilles and Wallach 1996: 501- 10). Several cases documenting DOP in Wilson and Miller (1946) make mention of syphilis. Case 38, “…had syphilis at the age of 40 and received standard treatment for two years” (Wilson and Miller 1946: 51). Case 41 “…had syphilis at the age of 36 and had five years of treatment” (Wilson and Miller 1946: 52). While mercury as treatment in Case 38 and 41 is not stated, it is likely it was used. Case 46 does document mercury playing a role as, “a ship’s captain (who) complained of itching and creeping sensations which involved the face severely, but all parts of the body had been affected at times. The disorder had begun twenty years previously with a crawling sensation about the genitals and perineal region. He believed pubic lice to be present at the time but could never find them. He tried strong mercurial ointment, and within a day or so this medication had ‘driven them all over the body’” (Wilson and Miller 1946: 52).
There also appears to be some connection between patients suffering from a condition called syphilophobia and DOP. “Syphilophobia is a psychiatric symptom which may accompany or precede all stages of mental illness, and is analogous in all features to the delusion of parasitosis” (Macalpine 1957: 99). For unclear reasons, Wilson (1952) categorizes DOP with syphilophobia. Self-treatment with mercurial ointment is a possibility.
Some early cosmetics had mercury as a key ingredient. A dated source itself states, “Despite the fact that topical mercury preparations were condemned as both useless and dangerous almost twenty years ago, these creams are apparently still available” (Oliveira et. al. 1987: 304). For unknown reasons, mercurial skin creams are still widely in use throughout Africa, SE Asia, many Arabic speaking countries, and Mexico (see related research under search of “mercury skin cream” on Pubmed.gov).
Cases 5 and 6 presented by Wilson and Miller in addition to having DOP symptoms had vitigo (irregular pigmentation likely treated with mercurial, skin-whitening cream) (1946:47). Documented commonalities between cases states, “’bugs’ may come out of such common household items as toothpaste, petroleum jelly, or cosmetics” (Schrut and Waldron 1963: 429). Also noteworthy is, “The typical patient with delusion of parasitosis is a woman over 40 (the condition is three times as common in women)” (Br. Med. J. 1977: 790); this pattern could relate to prolonged use of cosmetics.
In a large scale study of dermal effects of skin whitening creams, “of the 368 women questioned…main skin complaints included dermatophyte infections (n= 105) and scabies (n= 69)” (Mahe’ et. al. 2003). Another study of a condition found in Nigerian patients called “Ode Ori” is described as, “crawling sensations in the head and body, noises in the ears, palpitations and various other somatic complaints” (Makanjuola 1987). Similarly, Ebigbo presents “heat in the body and head; crawling, heavy and biting sensations” found in Nigeria (Ebigbo 1993:396- 401).
Mercurial skin creams are still in use in Mexico (also in US border states. See CDC study “Update: Mercury Poisoning Associated with Beauty Cream – AZ, CA, NM and Texas” 1996). The US distribution map of Morgellons Disease (which is widely accepted by the medical community as the same as DOP) on Morgellons.org shows higher concentrations in US/ Mexico Border States.
Discussion- I am not a qualified medical researcher nor am I objective in presenting such information as connections between mercury and DOP symptoms (see documentation of my recovery from related symptoms in “Hell and Back Again” Keleher 2008). None the less, I cannot help seeing connections and possible connections throughout the medical research on the symptoms set labeled DOP (and other times Morgellons Disease) and mercury. Certainly, some of the connections in this paper as well as an earlier paper (see Keleher 2008) are speculative. My background as a researcher is in the admittedly soft science of archaeology. My hope in presenting this and other information is that a qualified medical professional (or professionals) will further the investigation.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, "Mercury Poisoning Associated With Beauty Cream- AZ, CA, NM and Texas 1996." MMWR Morb. Mortal Weekly Report 45, no. 1 (1996): 633-5.
"Delusions of Parasitosis." British Medical Journal 26, no. 1 (1977): 790-791.
Keleher, Joseph W.. "Hell and back Again: An Account of Morgellons Disease and Its Cure From a Former Sufferer." Explore! 17, no. 4 ( August 2008):
Keleher, Joseph W.. "Patterns in Early Morgellons Disease Considered as Effect of Mercury Exposure." Explore! 17, no. 6 (December 2008):
Mahe’, A, Ly F, Aymaid G and Dangou JM. "Skin Diseases Associated With the Cosmetic Use of Bleaching Products in Women From Dakar, Senegal." British Journal of Dermatology 148, no. 3 (March, 2003): 493-500.
Makanjuola, RO. ""’Ode Ori’ A Cultural-Bound Disorder with Prominent Somantic Features in Yoruba Nigerian Patients." Acta. Psychiatric Scandinavia 75, no. 3 (1987): 231-6.
Macalpine, Ida. "Syphilophobia: A Psychiatric Study." British Journal of Venereal Disease 33, no. (1957): 92.
Schrut, Albert H., MD and William G. Waldron. "Psychiatric and Entomological Aspects of Delusory Parasitosis." Journal of the American Medical Association 186 (1963): 429-430.
Sneddon, I. B.,. "The Mind and the Skin." British Medical Journal (March, 1949): 472-5.
Tilles, G. and D. Wallach. "The Treatment of Syphilis with Mercury: An Exemplary Therapeutic History." History of Science in Medicine 30, no. 4 (1996): 501- 510.
Wilson, J. Walter and Hiram E. Miller. "Delusions of Parasitosis." Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology 54, no. (1946):