Workplace Medical Mystery at the North Pole

Posted on by Julie Tisdale-Pardi, MA

What is going on at the North Pole? Several elves in the toy making department have reported congestion, cough and shortness of breath. While it is cold and flu season, all of the elves have had their flu shots and the issues seem to be contained to the elves working in the toy shop. A handful of elves also report sore throats, burning eyes and fatigue. This is highly unusual. Santa and the elves cannot recall a similar situation in all of their years. In trying to identify a culprit, they remembered a summertime renovation of the toy shop and a recently repaired hole in the roof caused by an unsuccessful reindeer landing. They also discussed the family of mice who were recently relocated from the attic.

What is making the elves sick? This needs to be solved quickly. The backlog of toys is reaching crisis mode. Can you help save the holidays for millions of children? Tell Santa and the elves what you think is making the elves sick and check back on Wednesday to see if the mystery has been solved.


Julie Tisdale-Pardi, MA, is the Coordinator of the NIOSH Science Blog.

Posted on by Julie Tisdale-Pardi, MA

29 comments on “Workplace Medical Mystery at the North Pole”

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    Since the repairs (and new building materials) were performed months ago, the likelihood of formaldehyde off-gassing is unlikely. There may be particulates and off-gassing materials in the HVAC system which has recently been turned on for heat and just now impacting the elves. But the Occam’s razor answer would be hantavirus from the displaced mice.

    Number one consult construction company to discover what materials were used in the reconstruction and hole repair which could result in respiratory symptoms response. Number two test elves for bacterial organism in blood to rule out bacterial sources. Number three meanwhile treat symptoms as clinically indicated and remove all elves from suspected external environment sources. Number four gift cards make great substitutions for actual toys

    Mold growth caused by water infiltration from the roof damage and hantavirus from exposure to dust containing mouse droppings from the mouse infestation during the renovation.

    Tularemia is possible – symptoms mostly match, some from rubbing their faces (tired elves working double OT this time of year) and some from eating contaminated candy canes and cookies at their workstations.

    SantaVirus is more likely than Hanta virus as this is not very characteristic of Hanta virus (not much in the way of pulmonary symptoms). Burning eyes and fatigue with no mention of fever- Is this a bad medical history and are we getting incomplete information. Too far north for Lassa fever. Does not sound like leptospirosis. It could be a new glue, some type of methacrylate, epoxy, etc. More likely a common cold till proven otherwise. Go home and rest and don’t send infected toys to children.

    It could be those reindeer: Reindeer Warble Fly causing Human Myiasi. Who ever heard of an epidemic of such! See: Kan B, Åsbakk K, Fossen K, et al. Reindeer Warble Fly–associated Human Myiasis, Scandinavia. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2013;19(5):830-832. doi:10.3201/eid1905.130145.

    my wild guess is: elevated CO2 levels (fatigue, shortness of breath) combined with very low humidity (mucous membrane irritation–cough, burning eyes, congestion, sore throats); it’s cold outside so the toy shop windows are probably kept closed so lack of fresh air, more elves to meet the toy demand means more CO2 expired, and wintertime humidity is typically low in snowy areas, especially with wood-burning heat sources such as the fireplaces/wood stoves in toy shop; now that I think of it maybe there is an issue with the fireplaces/wood stoves combusting the wood properly so there is particulate being entrained in the toy shop air further aggravating the mucous membranes (well that was a fun exercise, thanks NIOSH!)

    It is not a health issue, the elves are overworked as the North Pole has no labor unions; working 12-hours a day in the North Pole Sweat Shop has resulted in the severe fatigue. As for the sore throats and burning eyes, with the outside temperature hovering around -40 C, the gas fired furnace is keeping everyone toasty but the relative humidity has reached extreme lows of 15%. Thus overworked elves are feeling the ill effects of extreme dry air.
    Solution – provide more breaks and time off, and install a factory-humidifier to raise the moisture level in the air to 45% and bring productivity up to save Christmas.

    Common cold virus. Wash hands often, get lots of rest. Drink lots of fluids. Stay home if sick. Repeat until spring.
    Too far north for Hanta. Add clean humidification for dry air to improve comfort.

    Animal allergy exposures from the relocation of mice. The elves should be put on an Animal Allergy Exposure Program and use PPE (N-95 respirators, gloves, etc.) when working near the mice.

    Does not sound like leptospirosis. It could be a new glue, some type of methacrylate, epoxy, etc. More likely a common cold till proven otherwise. Go home and rest and don’t send infected toys to children.

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Page last reviewed: November 14, 2022
Page last updated: November 14, 2022