Treating the Insects of the Mind

Another woman, who lives in Atlanta, said she was misdiagnosed with scabies, and then humiliated in a hospital corridor by a doctor shouting that she was psychotic. She agreed to see a psychiatrist, but is still convinced that her skin is covered with bites. When she scratches, red, black, or white specks come out; they look like roach turds or eggs, she said. “Anybody with eyes can’t help but see it.”

For another Atlanta woman, a psychiatrist recognized the problem behind her itchiness and her obsessive cleaning, but those appointments haven’t helped. “She wants me to cut down on the cleaning … but in my mind I can’t stop, because if my kids start getting more attacked and I haven’t cleaned …” she said over the phone. “I’m sitting here right now and I feel things crawling all over my feet. I’ve been tested for neuropathy, MS, and cancer. I’ve been tested for everything.”

By now, she hopes the condition is psychological; she just can’t convince herself of it. “It’s ruined my life,” she said. She began to cry.

In STAT, journalist Eric Boodman profiles the etymologists who have the unusual task of helping the public deal with all kinds of insect-related issues, including working with people who suffer from insects scientists cannot find. It’s part of an increasingly-recognized condition known as delusional parasitosis, or DP, and neither science nor medicine understand much about it.

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