From a point of view of an entomologist and pest controller, phantom bugs are considered to be the hardest cases one has to put up with and are usually very difficult cases to resolve.
These phantoms are not related to religion, and in most cases are not even bug related. So what are phantom bugs really?
The appropriate medical term for a sensation that resembles the feeling of small insects crawling on or under the skin is formication.
It is one specific form of a set of sensations known as paresthesias, which also include the more common prickling, tingling sensation known as ‘pins and needles’.
Formicating is a well-documented symptom, which has numerous possible causes.
The word is derived from formica, the Latin word for ant.
‘Phantom bug’ is the more common term used.
People are suffering what is known as delusional parasitosis. They believe their skin is inhabited, or under attack, by small insects or similar parasites, despite repeated reassurances that it is not the case
Phantom bugs may sometimes be experienced as feelings of itchiness, tingling, pins and needles, burning, or even pain. When the problem is perceived as itchiness, it may trigger the scratch reflex, and because of this, some people suffering from the sensation are at risk of causing skin damage through excessive scratching.
In some instances, static electricity can attract particulates to the skin and can also cause body hair to move, giving a sensation similar to that of insects crawling over the skin. In such cases, which we usually encounter in large offices, where the air is constantly conditioned artificially, a simple way to resolve this is to let in fresh air or by introducing plants in the building.
However, in many cases no external trigger creates the sensation. In rare cases, individuals become convinced that the sensation they are experiencing is due to the presence of real insects on or under the skin.
In these cases, people are suffering what is known as delusional parasitosis. They believe their skin is inhabited, or under attack, by small insects or similar parasites, despite repeated reassurances from doctors, pest control experts, and entomologists that it is not the case.
Most of the cases we have dealt with involve the people under the age of 40.
Some of these cases, which are quite frequent in the Maltese islands, are by far the hardest to solve as usually they are more psychologically related.
Arnold Sciberras is an entomological pest consultant at Fort Pest Control. For further information call 2143 4534 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.