Your Work Makes You Ill
Work is an essential component of the life of a human being. People work in different
environments. While some settings are outdoor spaces, many are indoor spaces in office
buildings. Exposure to different backgrounds leads to different outcomes. Indoor air quality is a
significant concern in the offices that make work environments. Workers can get infected with
illnesses that are associated with the quality of air in the buildings, known as Building Related
Illnesses (BRI). The work environments might be havens of factors and disease-causing
organisms that affect the health of the workers. Depending on how long they spend in their work
environments, and the strength of the elements and disease-causing microorganisms that may be
in there, workers may contract illnesses that may cause short-term or long-term health effects.
The focus of this research is on the role that an infectious disease specialist can play in
the identification, prevention, and control of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) among laboratory
staff in school environments. SBS is a worldwide health concern. The work of infectious disease
specialists is to diagnose, control, prevent, and treat infections (Paulsen et al., 2016). These
specialists team up with physicians in the hospitals to provide treatment to infections that have
shown resistance to treatment. Clinical outcomes are one of the primary concerns of a physician,
and infectious disease experts come in to help improve them. They bring positive influence in
transitions by providing prevention and control of infections (McQuillen & MacIntyre, 2017).
This research aims to gather and do an analysis on the incidences of Sick Building Syndrome
among laboratory staff, the prevalent risk factors, and the ways to help in prevention and control
of the transmission of the illnesses.
SBS qualifies as an occupational hazard because it affects people at their workplace.
School laboratory staff spend a lot of time in the laboratory buildings and are exposed to
different chemicals that bring side-effects. The workers in such laboratories expose themselves
to several microorganisms that may directly relate to the harmful health-related effects they
experience. Also, the time they spend in the building is a significant factor. If the
microorganisms in the laboratories are dangerous, a worker who spends a long time in the
building may suffer long-term consequences when they work in there consistently.
Microorganisms that infect laboratory staff, and their transmission
According to Josh (2008), the microorganisms likely to affect laboratory staff include
viruses, bacteria, molds, and fungus. These microorganisms can be found anywhere in the
laboratory buildings. The microorganisms come as a result of the chemicals and biological
substances that are used during teaching and research activities.
People in the laboratory can transmit viruses. Laboratory staff carrying viruses can
transfer them to each other because of the contact with each other. Viruses are airborne and,
therefore, can be passed to each other. A virus in the air in the lab can be inhaled by a worker
without their knowledge and end up suffering the ill effects. Bacteria, just like viruses, are
carried by people. Therefore, staff in the laboratory can spread bacteria to each other. They can
also be carried by animals, soil, and plant debris. Laboratories deal with experiments. Some of
the specimens used for experiments come from animals and come from plants. If a plant
specimen has a harmful bacteria with it, contact with laboratory staff can spread it. The same
case applies to soils, which can also be used as specimens in the laboratory.
Breeding of these microorganisms happens within the laboratory premises. Josh (2008)
says that these microorganisms breed in stagnant water. In laboratories, stagnant water can be
found in drainpipes and ducts. A further breeding ground for these microorganisms is insulations
and ceiling tires. Breeding grounds in the laboratory imply that a virus, bacteria, fungi, or mold
that is within the building will breed and keep multiplying (Prussin and Marr, 2015). A
laboratory staff that carried a particular virus from home will transmit it, and some will produce
in there and continue infecting others in the long run. Molds thrive in moisture. Laboratory
temperatures can fluctuate between hot and cold depending on the atmospheric temperatures, and
the type of experiments being done because some may require various temperature ranges.
Symptoms of SBS
The infections that come with microorganisms in laboratories cause certain behaviors in
laboratory staff. The behavioral changes are in the form of symptoms that manifest in the
personnel. Some of the symptoms include headaches, eye irritation, dizziness, nose irritation,
fatigue, throat irritation, fatigue, and nausea, which is a direct result of personnel exposure to
toxic chemicals that toxic black mold release. Infections from microorganisms also cause chest
tightness, chills, muscle aches, cough, fever, dry and itchy skin rashes, difficulty in
concentrating, forgetfulness, and allergic reactions (Abdul-Wahab, 2011).
Diagnosis of SBS
Diagnosis of SBS can sometimes be challenging because the symptoms are wide-ranging.
Some of the symptoms mimic other unrelated conditions like the common cold. However, SBS
symptoms have a unique way of manifestation that distinguishes from separate conditions with
the same symptoms. When someone with SBS leaves the building that is the source of the
illness, the symptoms improve. When they get back to the same building, the symptoms return.
As a result, laboratory personnel suffering from SBS can determine if they are infected upon the
realization that they have recurring symptoms of headache, nausea, fever, cough, etc. when they
go away from and come back to the laboratory building.
People with a current respiratory disease or an allergy already have symptoms that are
more or less similar to SBS symptoms. What happens to them is that their symptoms become
more severe. If they were coughing before due to their respiratory disease, exposure to
microorganisms in a building will cause them a more critical and persistent cough. An asthmatic
person may be at a higher risk for Asthma attacks because of SBS (Abdul-Wahab, 2011).
It is vital to note that people suffer SBS symptoms differently. Everyone that goes into a
building with SBS inducing microorganisms may suffer from all or some of the symptoms noted
above, but they may have variations. Other people may get infected with SBS but exhibit none of
the symptoms above. Some people may exhibit the symptoms of SBS after they walk away from
the building because of long-term or repeated exposure.
The process of diagnosis of SBS in practice is systematic. A doctor making SBS
diagnosis is aware that other conditions mimic the symptoms of SBS. Therefore, the doctor uses
the elimination process. A doctor will ask a patient about their work and home environment.
They will further ask questions about their experiences and feelings. The doctor will then
actively rule out conditions like allergies, asthma, or cold that could mimic sick building
symptoms. An individual suspecting the presence of SBS in their body is sometimes advised to
keep a journal where they record the various symptoms that they experience. They should record
the specific times when they appear, specific location, and when they disappear. These details
might seem trivial, but they are very crucial to a doctor to help diagnose SBS correctly and
distinguish it from conditions like asthma.
Causes of SBS
SBS has got several reasons that lead to its manifestation in occupants of buildings. In a
school laboratory set-up, there are several culprits behind SBS. One of the causes of SBS is the
exposure of staff to buildings with poor ventilation. Examples of these buildings are public
spaces, offices, and schools. Another cause is high levels of dust, carpet fibers, and fungal
spores. Dust causes respiratory problems that trigger coughing, sneezing, chest tightness, and
sometimes nausea. Dust gets into the human system and clogs the lungs, causing irritable
coughs. Dust may find its way into a laboratory building from the outside environment through
open doors and windows, mainly when it is windy (Zahran et al., 2018). Poor ventilation means
that the dust will accumulate and concentrate on the building. Laboratory staff will then inhale
those dust particles into their respiratory system. Airborne chemical pollutants cause SBS. In a
school laboratory, staff deal with various chemicals while carrying out experiments. Chemicals
like chlorine fumes can affect the respiratory system of laboratory staff.
A further cause of SBS includes poor lighting in buildings. Poor lighting irritates the eyes
because of the strain to see. It also causes general malaise. Low humidity is another symptom.
Microorganisms like molds and fungus thrive in low humidity. School laboratories located in
cold places present a conducive environment for the molds to grow. Fluctuations in room
temperature contribute to low humidity when the temperatures fall from room temperature to
cold. Other harmful chemicals include asbestos, carbon monoxide, and photocopier ozone. Poor
standards of cleanliness in a building is another cause. Unclean premises would have spaces with
stagnant water that could serve as breeding grounds for the microorganisms. Other factors
include psychological factors like stress and high levels of noise that air conditioning systems or
Interview with experts in the field
Experts in the area are well versed with SBS because they are either working in
environments likely to contain SBS or specializing in research on SBS. Individuals interviewed
for this research include
a) Laura Poland- an animal doctor in Great bay animal hospital
b) John Douglas- an engineer working for Durham Building Co
c) Allicins Ranch- a chicken breeder, working for Local Harvest farm
d) Chang Liu- a chemical Ph.D. student.
Poland and Allicins work in environments containing animals. These environments can
cause SBS. At the hospital, Poland deals with chemicals like drenches, antibiotics,
anti-inflammatory medicines, and vaccines to treat the animals (Osweiler, 2011). Ranch is a
chicken breeder and deals with chicken feeds and chemicals for their treatment. Douglas is an
engineer that gets exposed to building materials like cement, paint, asbestos, lead, etc., which,
according to Torgal et al. (2016), cause health-related effects. Liu is a Ph.D. student that gets
exposed to laboratory chemicals almost every day. The four interviewees are at risk of SBS
because of the environments where they work.
From the interview that featured several questions, Douglas and Liu revealed that they
had been infected by SBS before, meaning that their work can make them ill because of the risk
bacteria, fungus, bacteria, and chemicals. Ranch and Poland revealed that they use face masks
when working to prevent them from inhaling harmful chemicals. Poland, particularly, said that
he uses gloves all the time when administering drugs to animals because some of them are
corrosive and can affect the hands. Douglas and Liu said that they were treated by doctors when
they suffered SBS. They used allergy medications and over the counter options recommended by
the doctor like Zyrtec and Benadryl. During their treatment, they reduced exposure to their
working environments to help alleviate the symptoms.
Prevention and treatment of SBS
Treatment of SBS involves the alleviation of symptoms. A doctor can prescribe allergy
medications to alleviate the nose, the skin, and itchy eyes. They can also prescribe options like
Zyrtec and Benadryl. Prevention techniques include taking regular breaks from the building,
taking caution when using indoor chemicals like insecticides, opening windows to increase
In conclusion, laboratory staff in schools work in buildings that subject them to
microorganisms that spread infectious diseases. Air-conditioning systems and stagnant water
facilitate the spread of microorganisms that result in SBS. The density of occupation (congestion
among laboratory staff) in the building also enables airborne diseases to spread in the premises.
The interview reveals that workplaces can be a source of SBS more, especially in places where
the workers deal with chemicals and building materials.
Abdul-Wahab, S. A. (2011). Sick building syndrome: In public buildings and workplaces. Berlin:
McQuillen, D., & MacIntyre, A. (2017). The Value That Infectious Diseases Physicians Brings to
the Healthcare System. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 216(suppl_5), S588-S593.
Osweiler, G. (2011). Ruminant Toxicology, An Issue of Veterinary Clinics: Food Animal Practice
Paulsen, J., Solligård, E., Damås, J., Dewan, A., Åsvold, B., & Bracken, M. (2016). The Impact of
Infectious Disease Specialist Consultation for staphylococcus aureus bloodstream
Infections: A Systematic Review. Open Forum Infectious
Prussin, A., & Marr, L. (2015). Sources of airborne microorganisms in the built
environment. Microbiome, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-015-0144-z
Torgal, F. P., Jalali, S., Fucic, A., & Woodhead Publishing. (2016). Toxicity of building
materials. Oxford [etc.: Woodhead Publishing Limited.
Zahran, S., McElmurry, S., Kilgore, P., Mushinski, D., Press, J., & Love, N. et al. (2018).
Assessment of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Flint, Michigan. Proceedings of The
National Academy of Sciences, 115(8), E1730-E1739.
a) Laura Poland- who is an animal doctor in Great bay animal hospital
b) John Douglas- who is an engineer working for Durham Building Co.
c) Allicins Ranch- a chicken breeder, working for Local Harvest farm
d) Chang Liu- a chemical Ph.D. student.
1. Do you think your work can make you ill?
2. Do you risk being infected by bacteria, viruses, or fungus during your work?
3. Have you ever suffered from sick building syndrome? If so, how did you recover?
4. Is there any protection you use while working? Like masks, gloves, or glass.
• All the four interviewees said ‘Yes’ to question 1.
• All the four interviewees said ‘Yes’ to question 2.
• Douglas and Liu said ‘Yes’ while Poland and Ranch said ‘No’ to question 3.
• All the four interviewees said ‘Yes’ to question 4.
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