|Author's note: Since the writing of this article I have been in contact with Dr. Gary Pasternack at Intralytix who informed me that the bacteriophages developed at their company do NOT utilize the polyethelene fibers implicated in the research by Dr. Staninger.|
It's an all too-familiar story; federal agencies failing to do one simple thing: Communicate.
In 2001, Americans suffered the deadly consequences of the 9/11 attacks because federal intelligence agencies did not share vital information about terrorist threats with each other. In 2005, we grieved for needless losses due to Hurricane Katrina when federal disaster relief agencies neglected to put basic communication protocols in place. Now, as we approach 2007, Americans face another threat of unknown origin, and again we see a lack of communication among federal agencies.
This new threat is called Morgellons Disease. Never heard of it? That may be because the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has yet to officially recognize it as a disease. Morgellons was first described in 2002, and is characterized as rashes or non-healing skin lesions associated with unusual structures on or under the skin. Sufferers often describe these unusual structures as fibers of various colors, such as black, blue, or red. It also presents with a burning or itching sensation as if small parasites are crawling on or under the skin. A 12-person task force assigned by the CDC in June of this year to the study of this disease has yet to reach a formal conclusion regarding the existence of Morgellons, which is why it is exceedingly difficult to confirm deaths reported to be caused by this disease. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the use of a “food additive” that may very well be the cause of an emerging Morgellons epidemic.
Skin lesions from a controversial new illness named Morgellons Disease.
It's a new class of food additive that's quite unlike any you are probably familiar with. Most additives are in the form of a simple chemical. These new additives take the form of something quite more complex, a virus. They're called bacteriophages, or in layman's terms, viruses that “eat” bacteria. Bacteriophages have long been studied for their ability to kill harmful bacteria. Since August, they have been approved for use as a food additive. Their purpose? To reduce the risk of human exposure to Listeria, a bug which causes symptoms similar to E. coli, which was responsible for the recent outbreak carried by spinach.
Bacteriophages are very common in nature. They are mostly harmless to humans, but quite deadly to bacteria. For decades, researchers have been trying to determine how to capitalize on this natural ability by engineering bacteriophages which specifically target bacteria that cause disease in the human body. Now, it seems, a Baltimore-based company known as Intralytix is seeking to capitalize on these viruses for commercial profit.
Intralytix first petitioned the FDA for approval of these viruses as a food additive in 2002. On this controversial topic of adding viruses to food, Andrew Zajac at the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety stated, “As long as it used in accordance with the regulations, we have concluded it's safe.” Support for the recent ruling was also voiced by Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, who said, “The FDA is applying one of the toughest food-safety standards which they have to find this is safe. . . They couldn't approve this product if they had questions about its safety.”
Perhaps the FDA isn't asking the right questions. In a presentation given on October 18, at the National Registry of Environmental Professionals' Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Hildegarde Staninger described some very curious findings from research conducted on 18 specimens isolated from a 57-year old woman suffering from a severe case of Morgellons. As the disease is not currently recognized by the CDC, it is extremely difficult to procure funding for research, so this particular research was funded privately to the tune of $30,000.
According to Dr. Staninger's findings, which are pending to be published in the Journal of Pathology, the mysterious fibers were determined to be encased with high density polyethylene fiber (HDPE), a material frequently employed in the manufacture of fiber optics. Further investigation into HDPE revealed that it is also used by nanotechnologists for another purpose, encapsulating viruses just like the ones that are now being added to our food. The first foods to be targeted are processed meats, which means your child's bologna sandwich may soon be giving them something more than a case of indigestion. The FDA acknowledged that there are many other potential uses, and that consumer will have no way of knowing which foods have been treated with the viral spray, and which have not.
Staninger's research has already come under close scrutiny. Randy Wymore, head of Morgellons Research at Oklahoma State University recently issued a statement voicing a lack of corroboration with his own research at OSU, and that conducted by Dr. Staninger. Wymore claims that some of the solvents and temperatures used in their research, “would readily break down HDPE, but we did not observe this. If the red & blue fibers were encased with HDPE either the FTIR spectroscopy or the gas chromatography would have easily detected this, as polyethylene materials, whether high density or low density are in common organic compounds and in all of the databases.” Wymore also mentioned he could not find any confirmation of HDPE's use in viral encapsulation, but was quick to point out that he is not an expert in the field of nanotechnology.
How could this potential danger have escaped the FDA's “toughest food-safety standards?” The answer is simple: it's not their job to look for it. While the employment of viruses as a food additive falls under FDA regulation, the use of HDPE to encapsulate them does not. As a nanoparticle, HDPE is considered to be a dietary supplement, not a food additive. As a result, its regulation falls under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which states that only ingredients not marketed in the US before October 1994 must be approved by FDA before use in consumer products. Since HDPE nanotechnology had been used prior to that date in the fiber optic industry, it has “grandfather” status and is exempt from FDA approval. Under current regulations, the use of HDPE as a viral encapsulation molecule would fall under the authority the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Were the CDC to issue a statement acknowledging the potential connections between the ingestion of HDPE with the development of Morgellons Disease, the FDA may be able to ban its use. However, as the CDC has yet to even recognize Morgellons as a bona fide disease, this is unlikely to occur anytime soon.
So why is the CDC dragging their heels? It has to with the fact that Morgellons is often misdiagnosed as “delusional parasitosis” by doctors who believe that the intense itching reported by their patients has no true physical cause and that the fibrous growths seem emerging from patients' skin are nothing more than misidentified clothing fibers. This in spite of the fact that Wymore's team at OSU has already identified the presence of these fibers under unbroken skin. The doctors' reasoning for this diagnosis: since there is no known mechanism for fibers to grow out of the human body, Morgellons must not exist. It's an elementary logical error that may be costing lives.
Meanwhile, the CDC is saving face by conducting further research into the existence of a disease which has, according to the Morgellons Research Foundation, already been reported by thousands across the globe, and in all fifty of the United States. Yet another federal agency charged with protecting the public which seems more concerned with politics than duty.
This information raises some pressing questions. Assuming food-borne HDPE is indeed causing Morgellons, how did it find its way into the public food supply back in 2002, when Intralytix was first applying for FDA approval? Could Intralytix, or a similar company, have been conducting illegal tests of their products before submitting them for approval? As of this date, researchers at Intralytix could not be reached for comment.
Another possible scenario has been suggested which is even more sinister. Could somebody who already knew about the dangers of HDPE been employing it as a new form of terrorism known as nanoterrorism? Whether the research surrounding this mystifying disease turns out to be valid, or just bologna, it's high time that federal agencies start talking about it.