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Delusory Parasitosis

What is it?

Delusory parasitosis (a.k.a. illusory parasitosis, Ekbom’s Syndrome, or monosymptomatic hypochondriasis) is a medical condition whereby the afflicted person experiences a sensation of things biting, crawling or burrowing in the skin and is absolutely convinced that he or she is infested with minute insects, mites or worms when in fact, no such organisms are present. Persons suffering from this condition may or may not claim to see the causal organisms of their discomfort. When asked to try to capture and save specimens of the things that are infesting them, the affected persons often collect and submit such items as skin flakes (dander), scabs, lint, extracted follicles, mucous crust, and sometimes small, dead insects that were found on the window sills but could not have caused the symptoms described, even when alive.

What are the causes?

Sufferers of delusory parasitosis are usually middle-age to elderly in profile; however, younger people report similar symptoms to a lesser extent. Those who study this condition and have researched the people involved have discovered some interesting causes and explanations for delusory parasitosis.

These may include:

  • Reduced levels of hormones which keep the skin healthy and moist
  • Psychosomatic expressions of recent traumatic experiences
  • Lack of sleep
  • Post-traumatic stress syndrome
  • Power of suggestion
  • Side effects of certain prescription and recreational drugs (e.g., methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine) or combinations of drugs.
  • Skin irritation caused by fiberglass insulation fibers contaminating the living or workspace, drifting from holes in walls or ceilings
  • Skin irritation caused by household chemicals, cleaners or laundry soaps
  • Skin irritation from computer paper fragments that are electrostatically charged in dry air. The pin-prick sensations resulting from the paper fragments “jumping” onto the skin are often attributed to “paper mites” (which do not exist)
  • Post-herpetic neuralgia (milder symptoms)
  • Humidity level indoors is too low or too high
  • Delayed symptoms from bites that occurred outdoors (e.g., chiggers, ticks, thrips, damsel bugs, mosquitoes, no-see-ums (ceratopogonid flies), lacewing larvae, etc.
The condition is aggravated by the victim’s tendency to scratch, pick and probe at sites on their skin where the sensations occur, resulting in a variety of unsightly skin conditions. Sufferers have been reported to apply concentrated pesticides and other irritating chemicals to “infested” areas of their body, thereby creating a serious health risk to themselves.

What are the courses of action?

When Varment Guard receives a call from a person who requests treatment for pests that fit the descriptions given in the first paragraph above, our customer care team members are trained to alert the assigned sales associate to follow our prescribed protocol for potential cases of delusory parasitosis : (1) interview the customer thoroughly and listen carefully to the symptoms being described, (2) inspect the premises for real insects, mites or spiders that could be responsible for biting, burrowing and crawling sensations, (3) place sticky monitors strategically within the residence or workplace in the event that actual ectoparasites are captured for later identification, and (4) explain to the customer that no organisms were found but someone will be back in a week to pick up the sticky monitors and submit them to the staff entomologist for examination under the microscope. If arthropods such as (1) fleas, (2) bed bugs, (3) northern fowl mites, (4) oriental rat mites, (5) human scabies itch mites, (6) human lice, or (7) invasive spider species are detected, Varment Guard will recommend the appropriate course of action to the affected person and contact person, if different from the one reporting the problem. If appropriate, a Varment Guard pest management specialist will provide the necessary corrective treatment indoors, upon acceptance of the service proposal. If no candidate arthropods are found on the sticky monitors, upon examination, then the Varment Guard staff entomologist will call or visit the customer, tactfully discuss the findings from the monitors, and compassionately express caution that an indoor treatment of the residence or workplace with insecticide is not the solution and is not recommended for safety and legal considerations. Rather, the solution may very well lie with consulting a healthcare professional or industrial /home environment hygienist. In most instances, the delusory sensations will not subside unless the sufferer is treated with certain anti-depressant or anti-psychotic meds, which must be prescribed by an attending neurologist or psychiatrist. The difficulty in helping victims of delusory parasitosis towards a lasting solution to their problem lies in the legal risks associated with suggesting an appointment with a qualified (DP-experienced) neurologist or psychiatrist. A family physician is best-qualified to recommend this course of action to victims or involved family members. Unfortunately, most physicians who become involved in such cases lend credibility to their delusory patient’s reports of bites and burrowing sensations and mistakenly recommend pest management as the answer. [cta]

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