Unavoidable in many buildings. Sneaky, creepy bastards. Embarrassing you in front of guests. Absolutely the worst. OK, fine, mosquitos might be the deadliest animal in the world, but cockroaches trigger visceral reactions from even the most bug-killing bosses. They might make you gag on sight, but are cockroaches making you sick?
Of the 5,000 identified varieties, there are two that typically infest homes in the United States: the German cockroach (blattella germanica) and the Oriental cockroach (baatta orientalis).
“The vast majority of the other species of roaches throughout the world are of no real health risk to humans,” Bill Hastings, director of specialty services for Indiana-based Rose Pest Solutions, told Vice’s Tonic.
Still not feeling any better about them? Read on.
Can cockroaches make me sick?
That depends, according to experts. Cockroach droppings or molted exoskeletons (shudder) can trigger allergic reactions or asthma attacks.
The National Cooperative Inner-City Asthma Study found 35 percent of urban children with asthma had particulates on their skin related to an infestation. That study was conducted twenty years ago, but subsequent studies have backed up the findings.
Cockroaches also carry bacteria and other icks on their bodies and inside their crunchy bodies. “The gut of the cockroach is a very rich community of thousands of species of bacteria, and some of these can be pathogenic,” Coby Schal, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, told Vice.
Roaches enjoy kitchens especially if there is stagnant water or food around, but one would have to consume actual cockroach bacteria (say, on a plate or in a glass) to get ill. The sickness would have similar symptoms to food poisoning.
I saw a cockroach in my apartment. Does this mean there are more?
“Cockroaches are not loners,” Schal told Smithsonian Magazine. “They hang out together, cooperate, and even make decisions with one another. Just like people, it’s clear they suffer when they’re isolated.”
Oh, and if you see a cockroach in the daytime, it probably means the infestation is so large that little bugger got confused and popped out in the light.
“It is reasonable to multiply what you catch in a Roach Motel by 100 to estimate how many roaches you are sharing the home with,” Schal told Vice.
How can I prevent a cockroach infestation?
If you brought a dude home and you spotted a cockroach, you probably died of embarrassment, but having roaches does not mean you’re dirty. (Not sure if your date will believe you, but you.are.not.dirty. Unless you are.)
Insects can hitchhike on cardboard boxes or inside a friend’s purse. “Even if the apartment is clean, if your neighbor has roaches, you will too,” Hastings told Vice. “They travel through the adjoining wall, usually where the water pipes are but also through the electrical and ventilation systems.”
Plug your tub drain when not in use, make sure your dishes aren’t sitting in the kitchen sink and seal your food. You might also want to give plates, utensils and other cooking implements a wash before you use them —particularly if you just got rid of an infestation.
Will pesticides work against cockroaches?
The world could end. You could be the last person on Earth, but move a refrigerator and you’ll probably find Twinkies, Cher and cockroaches just straight chilling. They are all seemingly timeless and indestructible and just aren’t going anywhere.
When you see a cockroach, your first reaction might be to take poisons and, as Vice’s Nick Keppler writes, “in paranoia, spray them around wildly like some germophobe Jackson Pollock.”
People who use pesticides around their homes can absorb the chemicals and, according to a study, traces of the insecticides can be found in their urine. Not ideal.
Foggers are also a bad idea.
“The use of fogger-type pesticides only hide[s] the infestation,” Hastings told Vice, “while they do kill some of the insects, the others are forced deeper into the walls or cabinets cracks and crevices … and once the fog has dissipated, there is no residual to kill the ones that come out of hiding.”
That’s not great news, but there are some things you can do to control cockroaches and other pests (don’t even get us started on rats), Hastings said.
Rule 1: Sanitation
Rule 2: Sanitation
Rule 3: Sanitation
Hastings also suggests fillings cracks around cabinets and counters, seal areas around pipes with foam, don’t leave dirty dishes out, vacuum often and take out the trash regularly.
“By doing this you are removing the items cockroaches and other insects need to survive—food, water, and a place to lay their head,” he added. “If you take away their food, or where they live, then they won’t be there.”