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What to Know About Cockroaches and Your Health

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 11, 2022

Cockroaches can be quite a headache in your household. Besides being unpleasant to see around, they also carry substances like their feces on their body. They can release these substances into the air causing allergic reactions or asthma attacks. They can also contaminate your food, utensils, and even the surfaces where you prepare your food. This may cause health hazards like food poisoning and infections.

Where Do Cockroaches Live

Cockroaches typically prefer living around the kitchen for easy access to food and water. Common places for cockroaches to hide out are:

  • Wall cracks
  • Behind or under furniture
  • Below the sink
  • Kitchen cupboards
  • Drains
  • Garden
  • Around water heaters

Identifying Cockroaches

You can identify a cockroach by its oval-shaped, flat, low-lying body. Cockroaches are fast-moving insects with six legs, wings, and long antennae. 

There are a couple of cockroach types you may find in your home. Cockroaches develop from an egg (oothecae), then hatch into nymphs, and finally adult cockroaches. Cockroach nymphs don’t have wings. They only develop wings in their adult stage. 

A female cockroach mates and carries around the eggs or ootheca, which is pillow-shaped and has up to 48 eggs, depending on the species.

The common types of cockroaches you’re likely to find in your house include the:

  • German cockroach (Blatella germanica)
  • American cockroach (Periplaneta americana)
  • Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis)
  • Brownbanded cockroach (Supella longipalpa)
  • Woods cockroach

The German cockroach. The German cockroach is the most common in households. You will mostly find it in the kitchen hiding from the light in dark spaces. It’s a bronze-colored half-inch cockroach with two black stripes on the back of its head. Only the older nymphs and adults have the black stripes. German cockroaches spend most of their lives hiding and will only come out to feed and mate.  They take about two months to grow from egg to adult.

German cockroaches typically live in clusters near their food source and will only come out when it’s dark. They reproduce faster than other types of roaches. Because of this, the majority of German roaches in any population are in their nymph stages. You will mostly find the German cockroaches gathering under your stove, dishwasher, and refrigerator. They defecate and mark these places as clustering points. You can spot their feces as dark spots where they like gathering.

The American cockroach. The American cockroach is the largest on this list, growing to about two inches long. They have a reddish-brown color with lighter thorax edges. They are less common in homes and will mostly hang out in a sewer, basement, boiler room, or steam tunnel in a commercial building. It especially loves food processing establishments. They leave their eggs near such places, where they hatch after about 45 days.

American cockroaches take about 15 months to go from egg to adult. The adults grow wings that cover the entire body.

The Oriental cockroach. The oriental cockroach, or the waterbug, is mostly found in garages, basements, and crawl spaces. This cockroach thrives in cool, moist places. Because of this, you may find some outside hiding in mulch or leaves where they can live through the winter. This also makes them slow growers. You can identify them with their blackish color, and small wings. Nymphs are usually brown in color, but get darker as they develop into adults.

They grow up to 1 ¼ inches long and have a flat body. The males grow wings up to about half of their bodies while females only get wing stubs. The oriental cockroach can’t fly. It takes them about 18 months to go from egg to adult. Their eggs take about two months to hatch.

The Brownbanded cockroach. The brown-banded cockroach lives in warm areas of around 80 F. You may find them in ceilings, electronics, light fixtures, motor housings, or sometimes outdoors. They are more colorful and a bit smaller than the German cockroach and may live even in non-food areas of the house.

The male brown-banded cockroach is golden orange in color and has a dark brown band. The females are darker and have lighter bands on the abdomen. The nymphs are darker with cream bands on their head, and a mostly golden orange abdomen. The males can fly with wings that cover their abdomen, while females are flightless due to their shorter wings. The brown-banded cockroaches are known to jump if they are disturbed.

The woods Cockroach. The name ‘woods cockroach’ is used to refer to a couple of roach species found outdoors. But this doesn’t mean that they won’t enter your house when they get the chance. You will typically find them in logs, trees, stumps, and woodpiles. They may get into your house during the spring to mate. This type of roach is also attracted to lighting. It only grows up to less than an inch long. Their wings grow beyond their body, making them very good fliers.

Cockroach Health Risks

As cockroaches move around your house, they shed their body parts and excrete feces and saliva. When these substances get into the air they have the same effect as dust mites in your house. They may trigger asthma or allergies when you inhale them.

Other conditions that may be spread by cockroaches include:

Symptoms of Cockroach Allergy

Cockroach allergens can cause chronic symptoms that last longer than other seasonal allergies. You may have a cockroach allergy if you have some of the following symptoms:

How to Eliminate Cockroach Allergens

There are various things you can do to prevent cockroach allergens from spreading. This is especially helpful in public spaces like your home and schools. Controlling cockroaches will go a long way in protecting people with allergies. Consider:

  • Extermination. For extermination, consider getting a professional to do it if the situation is bad. You can also try Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques that work for you.
  • Keeping your home clean. Cleaning is crucial to prevent making the environment conducive for cockroaches to thrive. Clean off food scraps from the floor and under large furniture. Food trapped under things like your refrigerator and stove may make an easy food source for roaches.
  • Reducing humidity. As seen earlier, some cockroaches love damp places. Keeping your home free of damp spaces will eliminate the water for most roaches and other house pests.
  • Target approach. Find the places in your home where cockroach allergens collect and take care of them. This includes areas like beds, clothing, carpets, and furniture. Make sure to clean your bedding at least once a week with hot water and encase your pillows and mattresses. Avoid having unnecessary fabrics and furniture around because they may house cockroaches and allergens.
  • Getting rid of the carpet. The carpet may hold a lot of allergens. Cleaning efforts like vacuuming may only make the situation worse since that can stir up the allergens left by the roaches. Consider replacing your carpet for smooth flooring. If this is not an option, make sure the person with allergies is not in the house when vacuuming. You should vacuum your carpets at least two to three times a week.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Lung Association: “Cockroaches.”

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Cockroach Allergy.”

Better Health: “Cockroaches.”

Illinois Department of Public Health: “Cockroaches.”

World Health Organization: “Cockroaches.”

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