In 2008, Percy Von Lipinski, 57, pricked his hand on a pine needle as he fell off a chair trying to hang a glass ornament on a Christmas tree. The accident, which was so benign and unmemorable that one is hesitant even to call it an accident, nearly cost him his entire hand, and could have cost him his life. The injury resulted in necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but extremely dangerous flesh-eating disease.
In 2012, Aimee Copland, a 24-year old University of West Georgia student, fell from a zip-line and cut her leg. Her injury also resulted in necrotizing fasciitis, but unlike Percy Von Lipinksy, Aimee Copland wasn’t as lucky; she had to have her infected leg amputated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 9,000 to 11,500 cases of group A streptococcus bacteria, which is one of the causes of necrotizing fasciitis. 25 percent of patients who contract the disease die. Necrotizing fasciitis is one of many strange and shocking skin conditions. From parasitic infections to genetically inherited mutations, here are 10 rare and unusual skin afflictions.
Graphic images follow.
10. Morgellons Disease
Is it a real medical condition or a sci-fi-like delusion? Morgellons Disease is a controversial disorder in which patients feel crawling, biting, stinging, and other cutaneous symptoms. Unusual thread-like fibers often appear under the skin, and persistent sores and lesions are common.
Mary Leitao, head of Morgellons Research Foundation, coined the disorder in 2002, and it’s been a lightning rod of controversy and speculation. After lobbying the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the condition, the CDC issued a 2012 report declaring that there were no disease organisms in Morgellons patients. The CDC said the fiber-like threads under the skin consisted mainly of cellulose. Medical experts, however, are divided on the cause of the Morgellons disease. Some say it’s a physical illness, while others believe it’s a psychosis called delusional parasitosis. Others file it under “unexplained dermopathy.”
Argyria, colloquially known as the Smurf Disease, is a skin condition caused by an overexposure to silver. The most extreme symptom of argyria is that the skin turns a cobalt blue or grayish color. In 2008, Paul Karason was featured on The Today Show for having blue skin. Apparently, Karason suffered from severe dermatitis and began self-medicating by taking a banned substance called colloidal silver. Karason’s extreme silver consumption caused his face to turn blue. Karason has taken the substance for 14 years, and while it’s done little to help his dermatitis, he says it has improved his arthritis and acid reflux. Silver was banned as an over-the-counter product in 1999.
8. Dermatographic Urticaria
Also known as skin writing, this condition affects roughly 4-5 percent of the world’s population. When the skin is scratched, the scratch reddens into a raised welt. These welts, or wheals, are a subset of urticario (hives) and can last up to 30 minutes.
It’s not known what causes dermatographia. However, infections, emotional stress, and penicillin have been known to trigger it. Anything that causes stress to the skin, such as heat, cold, or tight clothing can worsen symptoms. Strangely enough, prolonged exposure to a microwave is also believed to trigger dermatographia. But then again, what medical condition hasn’t a microwave been blamed for?
7. Blaschko’s Lines
The lines of normal epidermal cell development in the skin are typically invisible. Nevertheless, these lines can become visible when diseases of the skin or mucosa manifest themselves according to the patterns. German dermatologist Dr. Alfred Blaschko first described the phenomenon in 1901.
Blaschko studied 140 patients with skin lesions and discovered that the patterns were similar in each patient. The lines follow a V-shape over the back and upper spine, an S-shape over the chest and stomach, and wavy lines along the side of the head. These lines give patients the appearance of having Zebra-like stripes. The patterns don’t correspond to nervous, muscular, or lymphatic systems and are said to be the result of mosaicism.
Vitiligo is a condition that results in depigmentation of parts of the skin, and it usually affects the extremities. The disease occurs when skin pigment cells –melanocytes –die or are compromised and unable to function properly. The depigmentation causes whitish, gray patches to appear on the skin; these white patches can also appear on the eyes and mucous membranes.
1-3 percent of the world’s population is afflicted with vitiligo. The skin condition is complex and not well understood. Research suggests it is caused by an autoimmune, inflammatory, or genetic disease. Environmental factors may also play a role, as well as neural or viral stress.
5. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, also known as Cutis Hyperelastica, is an inherited skin disorder that affects the connective tissue. The condition causes an extreme collagen deficiency. Collagen creates firm skin, and when it’s not properly produced the skin becomes thin and easily extendable, like putty or a limp sack. This in turn can lead to muscle and joint problems, brittle bones, and blood disorders.
One in 5,000 people are born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Not everyone born with EDS experiences the same symptoms, however. Some cases of the condition are mild, while others are life threatening. There’s no known cure.
Tungiasis is a skin infestation caused by chigoe fleas. Native to Africa, Central and South America, India, and the Caribbean, female chigoe fleas burrow into the skin of a warm-blooded host and lay eggs. Feeding on blood vessels, the chigoe fleas create a lesion that gradually expands beneath the skin. Typically, the lesion is red and has a black dot at the center. Tungiasis causes inflammation and severe pain.
In 2009, tungiasis was present in 88 countries with particularly high concentrations of the disease in Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. To treat tungiasis, the flea needs to be surgically extracted from the skin.
Also known as Ambras Syndrome, hypertrichosis is a rare medical condition that causes an abnormal amount of hair growth over the body. In fact, hypertrichosis is often called “werewolf syndrome.” Since the Middle Ages there has only been 50 verified cases of the disease.
There are two types of hypertrichosis: generalized and localized. Generalized hypertrichosis causes abnormal hair growth over the entire body, while localized hypertrichoiss only affects certain parts of the body. It’s unknown what causes Ambras Syndrome, but most experts health believe the condition is a genetic disorder. Julia Pastrana is the most famous case of hypertrichposis. She took part in exhibition tours -or freak shows -in the 19th and early 20th century.
Elephantiasis, also known as lymphatic filariasis, is the result of a parasitic infection caused by specific kinds of filarial round worms. These threadlike worms are transmitted by mosquitos and block the body’s lymphatic system, leading to the enlargement of the arms, legs, genitalia, and breasts. The blockage forces fluids to collect in the tissues, which causes limbs to swell to disfiguring and disabling proportions.
Elephantiasis is found in South and Central America, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Caribbean. Roughly 120 million people suffer from the condition. Elephantiasis is also called Barbados leg, elephant leg, and morbus herculeus.
1. Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis
Informally known as Tree Man Illness, this rare skin condition is characterized by an abnormal susceptibility to human papillomaviruses. The uncontrolled HPV infections cause large, scaly, tree-bark-like warts to form on the body, particularly on the hands and feet. The condition usually appears between the ages of 1-20.
The public first took notice of the disease in 2007, when photos of Dede Koswara surfaced on the Internet. Koswara was also featured on the Discovery Channel and Learning Channel, and in 2008 he had 4-pounds of macules and papules surgically removed. Nevertheless, the skin disease is aggressive and it is estimated Koswara will need to undergo several surgeries a year to maintain a “somewhat” normal looking appearance.