The title of the article itself reveals that there is no such thing as paper fleas, cable mites, paper mites or carpet lice. All these are simply mythical or imaginary creatures. However, people working in office environments with huge amounts of paperwork in the form of mails, files or documents often tend to experience itchiness leading them to believe in the existence of paper fleas.
What exactly are paper fleas?
Paper fleas are mythical office bugs. Despite an extensive search, they are never found, but that does not stop office workers from feeling itchy. Many tend to show signs and symptoms like red wheals or welts on the skin as a result of which they believe their workplace to be heavily infested with bugs. Many times, this results in the use of unnecessary chemicals or pesticides which do not bring about any positive results.
So what causes itchiness at the workplace?
The tiny pinprick-like sensations experienced at the office are very real and not imagined. Even physicians tend to misdiagnose them as insect bites. The real culprits, however, are tiny particles in the air that cause the pinpricks on the workers’ skin. These typically arise from:
- The insulation from vents or ceiling ducts that are usually covered with fiberglass
- New or worn out fabric fibers from office linen including rugs and carpets
- Miniscule shards of paper which are not visible to the eye but exist nevertheless due to tearing or ripping off of paper.
- Dust in closed office spaces lead to allergies which cause itchiness. This occurs mainly due to the production of histamine in the blood
Paper Fleas: How to eliminate the problem?
If there are frequent complaints regarding skin issues or appearance of insect bites on workers skin, the building’s management or housekeeping should be contacted immediately. If needed, professional pest extermination consultants must be called to investigate and eliminate infestations, if any. Many times, workspaces might have bed bugs, fleas, or mites that may be causing the bites. However, the use of harmful foggers and sprays must be strictly avoided since these tend to have long lasting ill-effects such as respiratory problems, eye allergies etc.
Unhygienic conditions due to improper housekeeping also lead to accumulation of dust on the working surfaces. This dust gets unsettled when furniture is relocated, old carpets are torn, or large dusty files are moved from one location to another. People allergic to the dust tend to experience scratching which leads them to believe in the existence of paper fleas.
If there is no physical evidence of any pest activity, the next step is to check for sources of airborne particles. These include shards of insulation, fragments from new or worn out carpets or rugs, paper dust from cardboard boxes and so on. The dry air in the office also turns the fragments into static electricity-charged particles or splinter-like bits that tend to be mistaken for bugs.
The third important step is to take corrective measures such as moisturizing the environment as well as workers skin. Frequent cleaning with damp cloth, washing and shampooing the carpets regularly and/or vacuuming them using a HEPA filter based vacuumer can ensure keeping the dust settled rather than airborne. If possible, air purifiers or humidifiers can be installed to provide temporary relief in some circumstances.
Workers should also be educated about the mythical paper fleas. This way, they can utilize skin care/protection routines that can minimize the irritation. Generally, a dermatologist will recommend moisturizers or cleansers to minimize the skin irritation. Some other precautions like spraying anti-static sprays on office chairs and nylon stockings etc can also deter the ‘activity’ of the mythical paper fleas.