The mysterious disease now known as Morgellons went unnamed -- and largely unnoticed -- until 2002, when a Pennsylvania woman named Mary Leitao began researching her 2-year-old son's troubling skin problems [source: Chertoff]. The boy said "bugs" when pointing to fibers that continually sprouted from his lips [source: Schulte]. She christened the malady "Morgellons," a name plucked from a reference to wiry hairs sprouting from the backs of children that she discovered in an obscure 17th century French medical text. By 2002, she'd launched a Web site that galvanized a growing number of people experiencing equally unsettling symptoms. And in 2004, she founded the Morgellons Research Foundation, a nonprofit group to raise awareness and funding for the condition [source: Harlan].
Not long after, Randy Wymore, a pharmacology and physiology researcher at Oklahoma State University with a penchant for pinning answers on the unknown, began collecting and studying samples from people who said they had the fibers erupting from their skin [source: Harlan]. The pet project grew in scope, but Wymore still couldn't determine what the fibers were made of. They aren't a manmade material, like fiberglass, or a plant-based material [source: Stobbe]. In fact, researchers still don't know what the fibers are; they don't even match anything in the FBI's national database [source: ABC News].
People continue to populate the Morgellons Research Foundation Web site, which has become the primary registry for those reporting symptoms. The disease seems to affect middle-aged women most often, but men and children also report symptoms. Many say the disease seems to spread through families in close contact [source: Schulte]. To date, more than 14,000 people (who've dubbed themselves "Morgies") consider themselves carriers of the disease. Still, it's difficult to track the number of actual cases. That's because people with the symptoms must diagnose themselves; the medical community doesn't recognize Morgellons as a disease -- yet.
In September 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- which receives about 1,200 annual inquiries from those with Morgellons -- wrapped a yearlong investigation on the condition [source: Chong]. The CDC currently is studying the data, but as of May 2010, a date had not been set to release the results.
The CDC investigation was designed to catalog symptoms and gather information about the people who report having Morgellons. Northern California was selected as a study site because of its greater-than-average number of cases [source: Templeton]. Other areas with Morgellons clusters include Florida and Texas, but Morgellons has been reported in every state, as well as Asia, Europe and Australia [source: Witt].
For those who believe they wage a daily battle against Morgellons symptoms, the CDC study offers hope. We'll explore their troubling symptoms on the next page.