4 Types of Health Problems Caused by Cockroaches

Becca Stokes
Written by Becca Stokes
Updated November 18, 2021
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No one gets excited when they spot an errant cockroach scuttling past them in the living room. One or two cockroaches is unpleasant, but three or four? That’s a cause for concern, especially since cockroaches can cause several types of health problems. Let’s break down how these crawling scavengers can affect your health.

Health Problems Caused by Cockroaches

Allergies

Cockroaches may be “gross” to some, but, usually, that opinion is formed because of their buggy appearance. Instead, homeowners should be wary of cockroaches because they produce allergens in their saliva, droppings, eggs, and the skins (exoskeletons) they shed in your home.

This cockroach-specific allergen, known as cockroach antigen, causes allergic reactions in asthma sufferers, particularly when it’s combined with other common home allergies like dust or mold. Cockroaches are one of the most common sources of indoor allergens, and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, children are more susceptible to this reaction than adults.

Allergic reactions caused by the cockroach antigen can cause the following symptoms:

  • Stuffy nose

  • Skin rash or itchy skin

  • Coughing

  • Sneezing

Asthma

Most of the symptoms caused by the cockroach antigen are respiratory in nature because asthma is a respiratory illness. That means that asthma sufferers experience a heightened risk of symptoms when exposed to cockroach antigens.

Other risks for asthma sufferers include the following:

  • Bronchospasm

  • Eosinophilic airway inflammation

  • Prolonged increases in bronchial hyperreactivity

Disease Spread

Cockroaches can also carry and spread the following diseases:

  • Campylobacteriosis

  • Cholera

  • Dysentery

  • Gastroenteritis

  • Giardia

  • Leprosy

  • Listeriosis

  • Plague

  • Salmonellosis

  • Typhoid fever

Bacteria Spread

As if spreading diseases weren’t enough, cockroaches can also spread bacteria when they walk through our environments. There are three common bacteria found on their exoskeletons that can cause problems for humans:

  • E. coli: This bacteria is a common cause of food poisoning, and it’s often passed in kitchens where raw food is prepared. For example, a roach could pick up E. coli bacteria from raw chicken, and then spread this bacteria around the home and to its occupants, resulting in food poisoning.

  • Staphylococcus aureus: Otherwise known as “staph,” this bacterial infection can cause skin problems, infections of the bloodstream, bone and joint infections, and pneumonia.

  • Streptococcus:Commonly referred to as“strep”, streptococcus causes more than just strep throat. Strep bacteria attack your body’s inflammatory system, which can cause toxic shock syndrome, scarlet fever, impetigo, cellulitis, and even necrotizing fasciitis.

Who is Most at Risk of Health Problems Caused by Cockroaches?

Some people are more sensitive to cockroaches than others. The most at-risk groups of people have one thing in common: Their immune systems are not working at their peak, which makes it more difficult for their bodies to fight off illness. Here are the groups of people who are usually more sensitive to cockroaches:

  • Adults ages 65 and older

  • Chronically ill or immunocompromised adults

  • Young children ages 5 or under

Where to Find Cockroaches in Your Home

If you suspect that the surge in allergic reactions in your home may be caused by cockroaches, the first step is to identify the problem. That includes determining what’s attracting the cockroaches and locating where they’re hiding in your home, which isn’t always easy.

Cockroaches look for the same things that you do: warmth, food, and safety. That means you can expect to find roaches in the following places in your home:

  • Basements

  • Crawl spaces

  • Ducts

  • Underneath your sink

  • Near the water heater

  • Kitchen cabinets and drawers

Since most homeowners don’t inspect those areas on a regular basis, it’s possible to not notice a cockroach infestation for some time. To confirm that you have cockroaches in your home, be on the lookout for grit (which could be their droppings), dead roaches, cockroach legs, and empty roach skins.

Addressing Health Problems Caused by Cockroaches

Woman storing food containers in the pantry
Valerii Honcharuk – stock.adobe.com

The best way to help people suffering from a health problem caused by the cockroach antigen? Remove the cockroaches from the equation. While you wait for the exterminator to rid your house of cockroaches, here are some temporary measures you can take to reduce and prevent allergic reactions:

  • Storing food in air-tight containers

  • Spend more time outside of the home

  • Professional air-duct cleaning

  • Wet mopping the kitchen (or any areas where food is served) regularly

  • Shampooing and drying the carpets

  • Cleaning beneath the stove and the fridge

  • Sealing crevices and holes

How to Get Rid of Cockroaches

The only surefire way to rid your house of cockroaches is to bring in a professional exterminator. Exterminators will perform at least one cockroach treatment to solve your infestation problem.

One cockroach treatment costs an average of $150, but, depending on the severity of the problem, you may require a second or third treatment. If you live in a large home, you could be charged a rate of up to $3 a square foot to treat your home for cockroaches.

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