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Sources of Office “Bites”

By Chris Williams on December 13, 2011.

Q. People are getting bitten by something in the office where I work. It started with just a couple of people, but now several others say they have bites, too. Most of us haven’t had any bites and I’m skeptical. I think it’s all in their heads. How can we find out if we have biting bugs?

A. It’s fairly easy to convince other people that they are being bitten at work if a person talks about the annoying skin pricks that he/she feels and shows fellow employees the welts. Soon, others are also feeling “bites” and are itching. These office bites are sometimes blamed on paper mites or cable mites. There are no such pests. Usually, reported office bites are the result of some combination of on-the-job stress, loose paper or fiber particles, static electricity (resulting in bugs that “jump”), and dry air and dry skin. Office “bites” frequently occur after a new carpet has been installed (fibers) or after the office heat comes on in the fall (dry air and static), and are more common in offices where employees are working with paper and performing mundane tasks in a high stress environment.

helpOften, these bites are occurring at home or at sites outside of the office but aren’t noticed until later when the individual is at work. People are bitten over the weekend by chiggers or mosquitoes while doing yard work, hiking, or playing outdoors. Workers may be bitten while they eat lunch outside and then notice the itching later in the day. But, there can be some very real, though uncommon, sources of bites inside offices:

Bed bugs – Bed bugs are no longer rare pests but have become common in homes, and even in offices. Workers bring bed bugs to work from home and office visitors can also carry them in on briefcases, purses, etc. Since there are no beds and no one to feed on at night in offices, bed bugs can be found wandering during the day.

Fleas – Fleas that are found in office situations are not brought in by workers but are from animals living in or around the office. Fleas can be the culprits if there are guard dogs, or wild cats, opossums, or raccoons living in a basement or crawl. If the animal dies or leaves its nest site, the fleas can wander looking for a new host to feed on.

Bird mites – Birds that have been nesting on or in the building, such as in an unscreened vent or A/C unit, can be the source of bird mites, which can then bite people. The tiny mites may escape in large numbers looking for new hosts after baby birds have left the nest.

Lice – While body lice are found only in crowded, unsanitary conditions, a worker could have bites and irritations from head lice. An office worker may have picked up head lice from her children without realizing it. While the lice wouldn’t easily be spread to others in the office, they could be the cause of individual bite complaints.

Thrips – These small, winged insects normally suck juices from flowering plants, but they are known to bite people. Workers may be bitten by thrips on fresh cut flowers that have been brought into the office.

The first step is to have a thorough inspection by a professional pest management company to rule out real pests. If environmental conditions turn out to be the cause of the feeling of bites, these can often be corrected by humidifying the air, thorough vacuuming or removal of carpet, and other measures. In most cases, the reassurance that there are no actual biting pests in the office, is enough to eliminate the symptoms.

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