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Public entomologists struggle with an epidemic of delusional parasitosis

Cory Doctorow writes:

‘Dr Gale Ridge is a public entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, where an average of 23 people a day call, write or visit; an increasing proportion of them aren’t inquiring about actual insects, they’re suffering from delusional parasitosis, and they’re desperate and even suicidal.

Nancy Hinkle, a colleague of Gale’s, professor of veterinary entomology at the University of Georgia in Athens, estimates that she spends “a couple of hours every day” dealing with “the invisible bugs.”

The entomologists’ jobs are confounded by the possibility that the weird “bugs” aren’t delusional. The world of arthropods is sufficiently weird that it’s hard to rule out a rare or unknown bug causing mischief; not to mention the complications of industrial de-humidifiers that make “the room buzz with static electricity” that feels like bugs crawling on your skin. Then there are the well-meaning MDs who mistake their patients’ scratch-marks for bug bites.

The entomologists have learned to stage interventions with their “clients'” families, bringing them together to explain the realities of insect behavior, to bring them to the gradual understanding that their problems are real, but the bugs are not.

Not addressed in the story, but very interesting: why the sharp increase in delusional parasitosis? Is it a reduction in the public health services that would have intercepted these people before they got to the entomologists? Is it scare-stories about bedbugs and lyme disease? Aggressive hand-sanitizer ads with their subtext of lurking, dangerous dirtiness? …’

Source: Boing Boing