Tuesday, February 13, 2007
7 News Investigations: Body Bugs
It is a story unlike many we have ever seen. It began with one South Florida woman and has now grown to involve dozens of people. People claiming to have bugs coming out of their bodies. Don't believe it? Then sit back and watch Patrick Fraser's special investigation, Body Bugs.
WSVN -- Meet Kathy Jimenez. Her life is a nightmare.
Kathy: "All my friends thought I was crazy. I lost all my friends."
Meet Susan Hammer. Her life has been destroyed.
Susan: "It's just drained me. It's quite humiliating."
Two women with one thing in common.
Jose Jimenez: "And she really has real bugs -- she has flies, ticks, nymphs. All sorts of strange bugs."
You heard him correctly. Clean, healthy people have bugs coming out of their body.
Susan: "This is horrible, and this is horrible."
Kathy lives in Miami-Dade. When her condition started 18 months ago, Jose bought a powerful microscope to determine exactly what was coming out of his wife's body.
Jose: "I just didn't believe that a person could have bugs -- live bugs just coming out of their body. It just didn't make any sense to me."
And, to be perfectly honest, at first I didn't believe it either. We asked Kathy to scrape her skin. Then we watched as Jose put it under the microscope to see what was there.
Patrick Fraser: "There's no doubt what that is."
It seems clear: a bug. And, if you are amazed, look at this. Every morning, when Kathy wakes up, the bed is covered with what appears to be pepper.
Jose put the pepper-looking substance under a microscope. It's amplified 100 times and is shocking.
Jose: "You can see it there, how it's moving. When it's all done, it just retracts right back into the cocoon, and again, it's just a piece of dirt if you didn't know any better."
At first, doctors told Kathy she was, to put it politely, off the deep end. This one wrote she needed psychiatric help.
Jose: "We are all crazy, and these pictures are figments of our imagination, and somehow we're able to photograph delusions."
Other doctors examined Kathy and watched as she contstantly scratched her itching body and told her they couldn't find anything wrong. Jose is convinced they are afraid to admit bugs are living in her body.
Jose: "Most doctors don't want to be labeled with that diagnosis because they get blackballed from the entire medical community."
Jose then sent slides to Harvard University and the CDC. Both had the same conclusion.
Jose: "One person said, yes, they're parasites, they're anthropods, but they don't think that they're coming from you. You're just being bitten."
But Kathy and Susan are not the only ones we found that have bugs in their bodies.
Trisha Springstead: "I probably have 50 people underground."
Trisha invented a cream that treats skin disorders like psoriasis. And people infected with this bug disorder came to her after doctors couldn't cure them. People like this beautiful young woman, who can't understand why bugs come out of her young arms. Or this woman, who has had the disease so long she says she has learned to live with it.
Trisha has talked to many of them and says many more are too ashamed to admit they have the problem.
Trisha: "They don't want to lose their jobs. They don't want to lose their reputations. They're horrified, and I'm going to advocate for them. I won't shut up. I won't."
Trisha says others who have microscopic bugs coming out of their skin are misdiagnosed. Sometimes they are told they have scabies or shingles, in part because many doctors don't recognize the problem.
Trisha: "I think they want do the right thing, but they are too used to looking in a textbook and saying, 'Well, if this is this, and this is this, it's delusions of parasitosis. Let's put them on anti-psychotics."
With no cure, Susan can't work and can't go out in public.
Instead, she sits at home and pulls these long things out of her body. She is left frightened, frustrated and furious.
Susan: "This needs to be cut. It's just horrible, when you've tried everything in the whole world and, you know, try to maintain your dignity and your integrity."
Susan has suffered for nine months. Kathy has struggled for 18 months and has just given up.
Kathy: "I just want to die."
Lillian Rivera: "The Health Department is taking this very seriously."
But now, the people who have this unique problem are getting some attention.
After we told the Miami-Dade Health Department about Kathy's condition, they sent a team into the Jimenez house to start investigating, to try and determine what is happening to these people.
Lillian Rivera: "Right now, to us it's a mystery. We do not know if it's an emerging infectious disease or a parasitic disease, at this time. We don't have enough information. We haven't confirmed a diagnosis, so we are investigating, and, until we have the final investigation, we cannot say."
At least someone is listening to Kathy, instead of telling her she is crazy.
Jose: "What would I like? I'd like to see all of these things gone from her body. I think that you're going to be seeing more of these cases."
Trisha is certain of that and is convinced these bugs that are infecting human bodies are a warning sign of things to come.
Trisha: "If we don't do something soon, this is the next epidemic. This is the next plague."
A frightening thought, but, clearly, this appears to be a frightening reality.
Patrick Fraser: "What did you think when you saw the legs moving?"
Jose: "You're horrified because you keep thinking, how does something like this come out of a person's body?"
How, why, and what can be done?
"I want somebody to help me. I want somebody to give me the right medicine to help me."
Hopefully, Kathy, somebody will.