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How cockroaches can make you sick

Cockroaches are synonymous with filth and poor hygiene. Their feeding and nesting habits mean they can easily pick up a range of disease-causing microorganisms on their bodies and ingest them from the rotting and foul materials they crawl and feed on. The German cockroach, in particular, is a common indoor pest where food is handled, in homes, restaurants, commercial kitchens, and hospitals.

For businesses handling food, cockroaches are a sign of poor food hygiene practices and could result in a breach of food safety regulations and standards. They feed on anything suitable for human consumption and other natural products such as cardboard, leather, feces and even fingernails and toenails of sleeping people.

If you have found cockroaches around your home, even just a few, you may have a full infestation. Contact your local Ehrlich Pest Control office to discuss how to get rid of cockroaches around your property and prevent them from returning.

Diseases from cockroaches

Cockroaches do not transmit diseases directly to humans through bites like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas. Instead, they can transmit diseases indirectly when humans consume contaminated food or touch contaminated surfaces.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO): “Cockroaches are one of the most significant pests found in apartments, homes, food-handling establishments, hospitals, and healthcare facilities worldwide.”

There are over 60 pathogenic bacteria, fungi, molds, parasitic worms, and viruses found in cockroaches, including:

  • Salmonella

  • Campylobacter

  • Listeria

  • E. coli

  • Staphylococcus aureus

  • Staphylococcus faecalis

  • Giardia

  • Shigella dysenteriae

Many of the Salmonella samples collected in one study reported by WHO were resistant to antibacterial drugs, which would make infection control more difficult.

Cockroaches and asthma

cockroach close up

Cockroach allergies were first reported in 1943. It was discovered when patients developed a rash after cockroaches crawled on their skin.

Cockroaches can trigger asthma because some proteins in their feces and body parts produce an allergic reaction in certain people. Tiny particles from the dried feces and body parts can be spread through the air via dust in buildings and expose residents to allergens.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology reports the saliva, feces, and shed body parts of cockroaches can trigger both asthma and other allergic responses.

Many studies worldwide have found high levels of exposure to cockroach allergens in people living in urban areas, showing the extent of cockroach infestations in people’s homes:

  • The National Pest Management Association found that around 63% of homes in the US contained cockroach allergens, but in urban areas, the proportion rose to between 78% and 98%.

  • In the US, 60-80% of inner-city children with asthma had been exposed to cockroach allergens.

  • In Poland, around 25% of children with asthma had been exposed to them.

  • In Taiwan, 58% of all people with asthma had been exposed to them.

  • In China, 11-98% of dust samples from nine cities contained cockroach allergens.

How do cockroaches spread diseases?

As they are reservoirs of organisms that cause disease and are not vectors themselves, cockroaches use other means to spread diseases.

Cockroaches can spread diseases through:

  • Feces or droppings

  • Saliva and vomit

  • Physical contact with food and surfaces

Cockroach droppings

Due to their unsanitary eating habits, cockroaches can pass harmful pathogens through their droppings. When a cockroach feasts on something contaminated, such as a raw piece of chicken or animal feces, the microorganisms present will enter their system and may lay dormant or multiply in its digestive system. The pathogen can then be excreted in cockroach droppings and will contaminate surfaces and food where they crawl.

Cockroach saliva and vomit

Cockroach saliva and vomit are also responsible for spreading microorganisms. Cockroaches sometimes excrete saliva onto food before ingesting it and they also periodically disgorge partially digested food. These can both spread pathogens acquired from eating contaminated food materials.

Direct contact

Cockroaches can be found in many filthy environments that provide them with food, shelter and a suitable environment to survive. These include sewers, cesspools, drains, and garbage cans, where they come into contact with a range of microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These become attached to cockroaches’ bodies in the dust and liquid materials found there.

The legs of a cockroach, for example, have spines sensitive to touch and provide a very large surface area to pick up pathogens. Anything a cockroach touches or rubs may then become contaminated.

How can you catch a disease from a cockroach?

You can catch a disease from a cockroach in a variety of ways. However, for the most part, cockroach diseases are caught by eating or coming into contact with items that a cockroach has contaminated.

Eating and drinking contaminated food

American Cockroach

The most common form of transmission of a disease from a cockroach is from eating or drinking anything it has contaminated. This can either be through consuming food or drink contaminated by cockroaches, or by eating or drinking something that has been made using contaminated cooking utensils, cutlery or crockery, or touched contaminated surfaces.

Inhaling contaminated air

If the air supply is contaminated with dust, containing particles of cockroach feces, dried saliva, vomit, or shed skin and this is inhaled by people suffering from asthma, the allergens can trigger an asthma attack.

Touching contaminated items

Touching items contaminated with a microorganism deposited by cockroaches is also a route through which transmission can occur. If you touch your eyes, nose, mouth or an open wound after touching a contaminated item, the pathogen can enter the body and cause infection.

How to prevent cockroaches from spreading diseases

American Cockroach

The most effective way to prevent cockroaches from spreading diseases in your home or business is to practice general food hygiene. This means removing any food sources — including tiny spills and food particles — that will attract them into your property and reduce the possibility of these crawling insects coming inside.

These methods include:

  • Eliminating food sources for cockroaches

  • Thorough cleaning where food is stored, prepared, cooked and eaten

  • Building maintenance to seal cracks and gaps through which they can enter

  • Following proper hand hygiene practices to prevent you from catching an infection from contaminated objects or surfaces

Contact Ehrlich for cockroach control

If you have found cockroaches or signs of cockroaches around your home or business, the best way to ensure you get rid of cockroaches is by contacting your local Ehrlich Pest Control office. Our cockroach removal and prevention specialists are ready to discuss cockroach signs and evidence and can help you figure out where they are hiding, how they are getting inside, and the best options to remove them.

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