“Ekbom syndrome is a type of delusion in which a person believes they are infected with tiny parasites. He also feels that they sting him, get under his skin and even harm him.
There are many types of delusions – one of the quintessential symptoms of mental disorders, along with hallucinations. Delusions are beliefs that are deeply held despite evidence proving otherwise. One of these delusions, which occurs very rarely, is the delusion of parasitosis, also known as Ekbom syndrome (in honor of its “discoverer”).
Its main characteristic is the delusional belief that one is being infected by parasites, insects, worms, lice, and small invertebrates of any kind. The person suffers because he actually feels that unpleasant sensation, the so-called “formation”, and makes every effort to demonstrate that what he is experiencing is real.
Ekbom syndrome is also called delusion of parasitosis (PD). According to Rodríguez-Cerdeira, Telmo and Arenas (2010), it is a rare monosymptomatic psychosis in which the person has a strong belief that they are infected with insects, worms or lice that live in their skin and harm them.
This occurs despite all evidence of the person suffering from the syndrome. People who suffer from it can be seriously affected in their work, their social and personal life and, ultimately, in their daily life, they can face great discomfort arising from delirium.
Ekbom syndrome has other names: parasitism delirium, dermatozoic delirium or chronic cutaneous dysesthesia syndrome. Thus, it is a clinical condition in which the patient has a fixed belief (which is a delusion) of being infected (not infected) with parasites.
Its actual incidence and prevalence in the population is unknown, although according to Healy et al. (2009), a shared psychiatric disorder (so-called folie à deux) also appears in 15% to 40% of patients.
In 1938, Swedish neurologist Carl Alex Ekbon gave a detailed description of the syndrome, discussing its psychiatry in depth and defining it as “dermatozoic delirium”. Specifically, he used the term “dermatozoic parasitic presenile delirium”. However, there are references in the literature to this type of delirium before this date.
Although other terms have been used to refer to Ekbom syndrome, such as dermatophobia, acarophobia or parasitophobia, the truth is that they are incorrect from a psychiatric point of view.
Because Because it is not a phobia (for example, the person does not have its own symptoms, such as avoidant behavior), but it is a delusional disorder. Later, in 1946, Wilson and Miller introduced a new term to refer to Ekbom syndrome: “delusion of parasitosis.”
Currently there is some inconsistency when it comes to the placement of Ekbom syndrome within the field of psychiatry in different reference manuals. It is included in the DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10 as “delusional disorder without specification”.
As we have seen, the main symptom of Ekbom syndrome is the delusional idea of being infected by parasites, worms, insects or some other type of invertebrate. Thus, the patient believes that they all live and grow under his skin and in his body.
The syndrome may be associated with the presence of tactile hallucinations and pruritus (intense itching that produces the urge to scratch). The presence of these sensations that the person feels produced by insects passing through the skin and moving under it is called “formation”.
The person who experiences it is able to give a detailed description of the behavior of the parasite (or parasites) in question. In extreme cases, it may even provide “evidence” of what is being experienced, such as pieces of skin or other debris.