Fibers on CNN
The recent CNN story on Morgellons (text version) was interesting as it focused on Randy Wymore’s examination of fibers, and actually showed his colleges removing fibers from a patient, and looking at them under a microscope.
In absence of any epidemiological studies, the only thing that makes the claims of Morgellons at all notable are the “fibers” that sufferers claim to have emerging from their skin. Now I’ve written quite a lot about this before, basically showing that fibers are everywhere, and that many of the photos of fibers shown can easily be identified as Kleenex, or clothing fibers.
The whole Morgellons case hinges around these fibers, which was the thing that originally got me interested – I think it’s high time that I get back to examining the fiber evidence, starting with the CNN video.
First of all, we have Dr Wymore in a thrift store, collecting fiber specimens from clothing with some scotch tape. The reporter then asks him if the fibers he found from Morgellons patients resemble clothing fibers. He responds “No, not at all, totally different”.
Here’s what Dr Wymore told me, on May 22, 2006:
“You see, we do indeed find environmental contaminants in samples from Morgellons sufferers. Definitely cotton, likely from bandages and cellulose fibers, probably from tissue. But, we are not interested in the contaminants that are everywhere. We take the time to sort through the known fibers to examine in more detail the ones that look unusual.”
So what he’s saying here is that he ignores that fibers he can identify, and keeps looking until he finds fibers he cannot identify. I asked him if he did not think that in any sufficiently large sample of household fibers (laundry lint, for example), there would not be some fibers that he would be unable to identify – but so far he has declined to answer.
Later we have some footage of the Morgellons group examining patients, plucking fibers off them, and looking at them through a microscope. Dr Rhonda Casey, DO, points at a small blue fiber and says “That is definitely not a hair, the blue thing there”.
The fiber she points at looks exactly like standard tiny lint fiber. Probably blue cotton. She carefully take it off, and makes a slide.
“This is what they saw”, the reporter says, and shows this picture:
There’s a blue fiber in the middle that looks like a cotton fiber. For some reasons there are a bunch of other fibers that were not next to the blue fiber before. The clear ones in the middle look like cotton or paper, the large brown ones look like human hairs (at about 80 microns they are the correct size). The very dark lines look like the edge of a large air bubble.
We then see several other images, one of which is clearly a damaged human hair – you can even see the scales.
So what’s going on here? Randy Wymore is finding fibers that look different (to him) from clothing fibers. Well, notwithstanding that it’s almost inevitable that you will find unidentified fibers wherever you look, what might make ordinary fibers turn into the Morgellons fibers?
Let’s take a simplistic explanation. Say someone suffers from something that has symptoms of neurotic excoriations (they pick at their own skin, consciously or unconsciously). They are going to have many open lesions on their skin (forearms and faces being common areas). Now lesions are wet and sticky, so naturally they will have several tiny fibers stuck in them. Lesions also heal, so the tiny fibers become embedding in the new skin.
A few months later, just like a splinter, the fiber works its way to the surface of the skin. It may emerge at the original lesion site, or it may have migrated a few inches over. Is it surprising that a small blue piece of cotton that has spent many months under the skin, now looks nothing like clothing fibers plucked with scotch tape at the local thrift store?
That’s just a theory – but it’s a nice simple theory that explains things without introducing a mysterious pathogen. Occam’s Razor: “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”. Before claiming that because he cannot identify some fibers, then a new disease exists, Professor Wymore must explain how he has fully discounted the multitude of far simple explanations.
I’ll simplify this to two questions:
1) In any large sample of household fibers, will there not always be some that are unidentified?
2) If a clothing fiber were embedded in the skin for a long period of time, and then emerged, would you be able to identify it as a clothing fiber?