July 28, 2006 — -- Imagine your skin burning and itching, and feeling like bugs are crawling under or on top of it.
Imagine having open sores on your face and body. Then imagine having stringlike fibers literally coming out of your skin.
That's exactly what patients with a mysterious illness called Morgellons disease say happens to them.
Anne Dill is just one of thousands of patients across the country who suffer from these strange symptoms.
Sometimes it feels as if there's something moving under her scalp, she said, and fibers come out of her skin.
"There's this fibrous material," Dill said. "It's in layers. It's -- I feel like it isolates itself. I think there's pockets of it."
Dill said she was reluctant to talk about the illness because she knew that some people would think she was crazy.
"Oh, I know, because right away that's what I know that they're gonna say. 'Uh, there's no such thing,'" Dill said.
That's exactly what most doctors do say: As far as they know, Morgellons is not a recognized disease, at this point, at least.
"I've seen colors of some of these fibers. Some of them are bright blue," said Dr. Vincent De Leo, program director of the dermatology department at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York.
"There is nothing in the body that is bright blue. So it has to be something from the environment. And some of them are fibers, but they're fibers I believe from the environment, not from inside the skin."
What about the open sores?
De Leo and many others believe the lesions are self-inflicted, caused by scratching because the patients have a psychiatric disorder where they wrongly believe their bodies are infested with parasites.
"And then they begin to focus on those lesions and try to get them better, usually by picking out the fibers or the bugs or whatever it is," De Leo said.
Despite the skepticism surrounding Morgellons, one researcher, biochemist Randy Wymore, is looking into the disease and believes it's something real.
He has collected samples from many victims and analyzed the fibers under a microscope. They resemble no other substance he can find, he said.
"While the experiments have to be repeated, this fiber was not cotton. It was no known synthetic fiber. It was of unknown origin. We don't know the composition at this point," said Wymore of Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.
Dill has her own idea about what could be causing Morgellons.
"I think there's some kind of organism that's transferred back and forth," she said. "I don't even think it's microscopic. I think it's macro. And I think it's so easy to see that it could bite them in the face but nobody will even look."