The Truth about Cockroaches and HealthDr. Jorge Parada
- National Pest Management Association
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Cockroaches live in a wide range of
environments around the world. These pest species prefer warm
conditions and thus are commonly found in the buildings of densely
populated cities and also in the southern United States. In fact,
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that 78 to 98
percent of urban homes have cockroaches - with as many as 900 to
330,000 cockroaches per home!
Cockroaches are most active when the temperature is greater than
70 degrees Fahrenheit and they thrive in warm environments with
easily accessible food and water. These insects are mainly
nocturnal and will run away when exposed to light. Amazingly, some
cockroaches have been known to live up to three months without food
and a month without water.
Cockroaches have many negative consequences for human health
because certain proteins (called allergens) found in cockroach
feces, saliva and body parts can cause allergic reactions or
trigger asthma symptoms, especially in children.
Cockroach allergy was first reported in 1943, when it was noted
that certain patients developed skin rashes immediately after the
insects crawled over their skin. Allergy skin tests were developed
in 1959, which confirmed patients' cockroach allergies. Subsequent
studies have firmly established that cockroach allergens can act as
a trigger for acute asthma attacks.
The National Cooperative Inner-City Asthma Study (NCICAS) found
that asthmatic children with both a positive skin prick test to
cockroach allergen, and a high exposure to cockroach allergen in
the bedroom were more likely to have wheezing, missed school days,
nights without sleep, and unscheduled medical visits and
hospitalizations for asthma. Approximately 23 percent to 60 percent
of urban residents with asthma are sensitive to the cockroach
allergens. However, the risk of asthma from cockroach allergen
exposure and allergy is not limited to children. The study also
found that cockroach allergy was associated with more severe asthma
among elderly asthmatics in New York City.
Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening chronic
respiratory disease. Unfortunately, it directly affects the quality
of life for almost 25 million Americans, including an estimated 7
million children. Millions more are impacted as family members of
persons with asthma. Although there is no cure for asthma, it can
be controlled through medical treatment and management of
environmental triggers - such as cockroach allergens.
Cockroaches can also passively transport microbes on their body
surfaces including pathogens that are potentially dangerous to
humans. Cockroaches have been implicated in the spread 33 kinds of
bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella species, six parasitic
worms and more than seven other types of human pathogens.
E. coli and Salmonella are classic causes of food poisoning, or
gastroenteritis. Common symptoms include belly pain, severe stomach
cramps and tenderness, diarrhea which can sometimes be bloody,
nausea and vomiting. Some people can experience severe diarrhea,
which will cause dehydration and may require hospitalization. In
rare cases, the bacteria can spread to the blood stream and cause
life threatening infections.
People can mitigate cockroach problems and protect their health
through barrier exclusion and cleanliness. Barrier exclusion
involves preventing cockroaches from entering the home through
places, such as small cracks in the walls and spaces near electric
sockets, and up through drain traps. Having a clean and sanitary
home will make it less inviting to cockroaches.
Here's a list of some things to do to protect your home and
- Keep counters, sinks, tables and floors clean and free of
clutter. Clean dishes, crumbs and spills right away.
- Store food in airtight containers, and always avoid leaving
food out (including pet food!).
- Seal cracks and gaps in walls, floors and openings around or
inside cabinets. Condo- and apartment-dwellers should also seal
gaps around plumbing, wall outlets, and switch plates.
- Run water periodically in spare bathrooms and little used
- Scan children's backpacks when they return home, as well as
grocery items before storing them.
- If despite all these measures, you discover a cockroach
infestation in your home, contact a pest
professional for assistance with elimination and
For more on cockroaches and allergies, watch this
video featuring Dr. Parada. To learn about different types of
cockroaches, check out our cockroach Pest Guide. View Comments
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