Certain conditions in an office environment lead to skin irritation and "pinpricks" that feel like bug bites...and sometimes even look like bug bites. The major difficulty is convincing workers...who are positive they are being bitten...that they are not. They need to understand that there is a reason for these "bites," even though that reason is not an insect or mite. |
Guess what? There are no such things as "paper mites" or "cable mites." And you should not treat if there aren't any pests. (But first you must make sure there aren't any pests, of course, such as bird mites, fleas, or thrips.) Here's where your communication skills come into play.
If not bugs, what causes the "bites"? Many environmental factors can contribute to irritations and biting sensations:
Carpets Fibers from synthetic carpets, particularly flimsy, nylon-based carpets, can "leap" onto the legs of office workers. The fibers can feel like pinpricks or bites, and can actually puncture the skin, especially if the person's skin is dry. Women who wear nylons and sandal-type heels have higher static electricity around their legs and feet and are most likely to attract the fibers. Paper Splinters and Particles Stacks of paper, multi-part forms, computer cards, and continuous forms produce paper splinters that can cause bite-like sores, rashes, or itching. So too can small pieces of wire insulation, carbon, and particle board. This is where "paper mite" and "cable mite" infestations got their name. Static Electricity High levels of static electricity can make carpet fibers, particles, and paper splinters "jump" to oppositely-charged arms or legs. Nylon rugs generate static electricity when people walk or roll their chairs. Electrical equipment such as radios, terminals, consoles, and computers also generate static. Low Humidity Low humidity increases static electricity and the movement and effect of paper splinters, carpet fibers, and other particles, and aggravates dry skin as well. Ventilation Filters from heating and air conditioning systems, and fiberglass insulation around ductwork, sometimes release fibers that cause "bites" and irritation. New filters often release fibers for a few days after installation. Dead spots in air flow within a room may increase skin irritation and the feeling that one is being bitten. Indoor Air Pollutants Modern buildings with closed ventilation systems sometimes have periodic high levels of chemical pollutants such as formaldehyde and resins. Some of these can cause skin irritations or allergic reactions. Insecticide Treatment Repeated insecticide appplications may increase workers' skin irritation and sensitivity to other environmental factors. (There is a "Catch-22" here. Office managers may insist on repeated insecticide treatments. Sometimes an area gets short-term relief from "bites" caused by fibers or other physical irritants after it has been sprayed because (1) sprays or fogs can carry dust and fiber particles down into the carpet, and (2), sprays add moisture to the air and lower static electricity levels. But these effects are short-term, and the repeated exposures may increase the skin problems.) Weekends Outdoors Workers may be bitten on weekend picnics or other outdoor activities. Mosquito, fly, chigger, or flea bites may not show up for several hours, and in fact may be noticed first at work where they are blamed on "bugs in the office." Workers may pick up head lice from their children. Bell's Syndrome This syndrome demonstrates the "power of suggestion." When one person in a group feels an itch or biting sensation or irritation, and begins to talk about it or to scratch, others in the group soon follow suit. It is a very powerful suggestion, difficult to ignore. When one person in an office talks about "bites," it will likely influence others.
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