Delusory Parasitosis

A relatively common psychological state occurs in which an individual mistakenly believes that he or she is being bitten by, or infested with, parasites. This is called delusory parasitosis, also referred to as delusional parasitosis ox delusions of parasitosis. This condition is distinct from simply a fear, or phobia, of insects or other arthropods and represents a more deeply rooted psychological problem. This delusory condition is most frequently experienced by middle-aged or elderly persons, particularly women, and is one of the most difficult situations for entomologists to approach.

Remarkable behavioral traits are sometimes attributed to the parasites by victims. These include descriptions of tiny animals jumping into the eyes when a room is entered or when a lamp is switched on. Some victims have failing eyesight; others may have real symptoms from other conditions such as psoriasis that they may attribute to the imagined parasites. Victims become convinced that the parasites are real, and they often consult a succession of physicians in a futile attempt to secure a diagnosis and satisfactory treatment to resolve the problem. Patients typically produce skin scrapings or samples of such materials as vacuumed debris from carpets, draperies, and window sills, which they believe contain the illusive parasites.

Victims of delusory parasitosis often turn to extension entomologists or medical entomologists as a last resort out of frustration with being unable to resolve their condition through family physicians, allergists, and other medical specialists. Because patients are convinced that arthropods are present, they are usually reluctant to seek counseling or other psychiatric help. Dealing with cases of delusory parasitosis requires careful examination of submitted specimens, tact, and professional discretion on the part of the entomologist. Additional information on delusory parasitosis is provided by Driscoll et al. (1993), Koblenzer (1993), Kushon et al. (1993), Poorbaugh (1993), Webb (1993a,b), Goddard (1995), and Hinkle (2000).

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