Cockroach Allergies and Allergens

Stephanie L. Richards, PhD, Medical Entomologist

Cockroaches are significant pests in residential settings, as they can contaminate food and are a potential source of allergens for humans. The German cockroach (Blatella germanica), Oriental cockroach (Blatella orientalis) and American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) are common species that are distributed worldwide.

How can I help reduce cockroach infestations?

At home, you can help prevent cockroach infestations using practices, such as:

  1. Cleaning the kitchen area
  2. Washing and/or putting away dishes when meals are completed
  3. Storing food in sealed containers
  4. Removing garbage to a sealed container outdoors with regular trash pickup

Pest management specialists can be consulted to assist with an integrated pest management plan that may also include surveillance-based targeted insecticide treatments for cockroaches. Even after targeted pest control has occurred, it is important to clean the infested area of cockroach debris (e.g., cast skins, feces, saliva), as allergens can persist in the environment if not cleaned.

In some cases, baiting can provide a low-cost way to help control cockroaches; however, sanitation is a key practice that homeowners should carry out on an ongoing basis (Rabito et al. 2017).

What are some other sources of cockroach allergies and allergens in residential and other settings?

In adults and children that suffer from asthma, cockroach infestations are one factor (in addition to other factors, such as mold, pollen, dust mites, pets, rodents, viral infections, smoking) that can trigger and worsen the allergic individuals’ asthma symptoms.

Another study (including more than 4,000 participants) showed that children’s allergic reaction to cockroaches was more widespread than reactions to allergens from mice (Fishbein et al. 2016). This trend was especially prevalent in children in New York compared to Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and San Juan (Puerto Rico); however, the investigators did not hypothesize why this was the case. Emergency room visits of children were associated with mice to a greater degree than cockroaches (Fishbein et al. 2016). The same study showed that results differed between participants of different nationalities.

The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program recommends avoiding exposure to cockroach excrement and cast exoskeletons as one way to help reduce allergens in children. They advise people to maintain sanitary conditions in the home and other child care settings to help prevent the occurrence of cockroaches. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology and the American Academy of Pediatrics can be consulted for further information on cockroach and other allergens.

Can cockroach allergens affect my pets?

Pets at home, such as cats and dogs, can be impacted by a variety of allergic triggers such as pollen, house dust mites, arthropod bites (e.g., mosquito, flea, tick), and arthropod stings (e.g., bee, wasp). Pets can also have food allergies that may contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. It is conceivable that pets can respond negatively (e.g., respiratory issue) to cockroach allergens; however, more research should be carried out to investigate this.

References

Fishbein AB, Lee TA, Cai M, Oh SS, Eng C, Hu D, Huntsman S, Farber HJ, Serabrisky D, Silverberg J, Keoki L., Siebold MA, Sen S, Borrell LN, Evila P, Rodriguez-Cintron W, Rodriguez-Santana JR, Burchard EG, and Kumar R (2016) Sensitization to mouse and cockroach allergens and asthma morbidity in urban minority youth. Ann. Allerg. 117:43-49.

Gern J (2010) The urban environment and childhood asthma study. J. Allerg. Clin. Immunol. 125:545-549.

Rabito FA, Carlson JC, He H, Werthmann D, Schal C (2017) A single intervention for cockroach control reduces cockroach exposure and asthma morbidity in children. J Allerg. Clin. Immunol doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2016.10.019. [Epub ahead of print]

Rabito FA, Iqbal S, Holt E, Grimsley LF, Islam TMS, Scott SK (2007) Prevalence of indoor allergen exposures among New Orleans children with asthma. J. Urban Health 84:782-792. Rosenstreich DL, Eggleston P, Kattan M, Baker D, Slavin RG, Gergen P, Mitchell H, McNiff-Mortimer K, Lynn H, Ownby D, Malyeaux F (1997) The role of cockroach allergy and exposure to cockroach allergen in causing morbidity among inner-city children with asthma. N. Eng. J. Med. 336:1356-1363.

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