The sores that cover Cindy Casey’s body are oozy and crusty. “They start out looking something like a mosquito bite that you’ve scratched, and they just sort of erupt and form a raised red lesion,” she says.
She says they contain microscopic filaments that are red, black, blue, or green, and that they’re also incredibly painful. “It feels like you’ve got a sunburn and then been rolled in a cactus patch all over,” she continues.
Casey, 52, says she has Morgellons, a condition that its sufferers assert causes skin abrasions all over the body, as well as neurological symptoms like fatigue and trouble concentrating. She calls it a life-changing, chronic illness, but even as an intensive-care nurse, Casey had a hard time finding help: Most doctors doubt it’s a dermatological affliction. Instead, they believe the physical symptoms result from a psychiatric condition.
“There’s no doubt these patients are suffering,” says Jason Reichenberg, a dermatologist at the University of Texas. Even so, he adds, “95 percent-plus” of his colleagues are skeptical the condition is caused by anything physical.
When patients with these symptoms seek dermatological treatment, they’re usually told that they have delusions of parasitosis, a condition in which people are falsely convinced that they’re infested with parasites—told, in other words, that the crawling, itching sensations under their skin are only in their heads, and the fibers are remnants from clothing. Still, they pick away, trying to get the feeling out. According to Casey, most doctors refuse to even examine the alleged skin fibers and only offer anti-psychotic medication as treatment. It took her three years to find a dermatologist willing to treat her in any other way, and she and her husband had to drive all the way from California to Texas to see him.