Can Cockroaches Make You Sick? (9 Diseases Listed)

Have you been putting up with cockroaches in your home?

What if you knew that they could be making you and your family sick?

Read below to find out how these annoying pests may be endangering your health.

Getting to Know the Cockroach

Cockroaches have a reputation for being disgusting, disease-ridden bugs. Unfortunately, this reputation is well deserved.

Cockroaches are carriers for a wide variety of diseases and may have even been responsible for the Black Plague.

Cockroaches are one of the most common household pests. They have been around since the prehistoric age and will probably be here long after we’re gone.

Typically they can be seen at night when they come out to scavenge food and water from your kitchen, trash cans, and drains.

They are known for the distinct, foul-smelling odor that they secrete from scent glands.

Cockroaches do have wings but they are rarely known to fly.

Their egg sacks are leathery and bean-shaped and can be found in dark, moist areas like under your sink or behind a water heater.

Cockroaches love human food but aren’t picky – they’ll eat carboard, newspapers, book bindings, dead cockroaches, feces… almost anything really!

How Do They Spread Disease?

Cockroaches themselves don’t have diseases but they are great at picking up bacteria and parasites wherever they go. They then spread them around your home by walking on dishes and countertops, nibbling at your food, and depositing their feces.

They also regurgitate as they eat, which can further spread disease.

When you use a dish or eat a piece of food that has been contaminated, you are at risk of getting sick. People with lowered immune systems such as children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the diseases cockroaches carry around.

Conditions And Diseases Spread By Cockroaches

Check out this list of 9 things that make roaches pretty disgusting and unhealthy.

1. Allergies and Asthma

Cockroaches contain a specific protein that can cause allergies in many people.

People with cockroach allergies can experience skin rashes and itchiness if they come into contact with a cockroach.

Cockroach allergies can also make asthma symptoms worse or trigger a full-blown asthma attack.

This happens when there is a bad infestation and the “cockroach proteins” invade the air in your home.

The proteins are then inhaled and trigger symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, and airway constriction.

2. Food Poisoning

Contaminated food is one of the most common ways cockroaches can make you sick. If food is left out, especially at night, cockroaches can infect them with a number of illness-causing bacteria.

E. Coli, campylobacteria, listeria, and salmonella are commonly found living on the bodies of cockroaches and can contaminate food.

Food poisoning causes a wide variety of symptoms, but the most common include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever.

Listeria, on the other hand, can be much more serious. It is especially problematic for pregnant women and can cause serious complications for the unborn baby. In adults it can spread to the nervous system and cause convulsions.

3. Parasites

Cockroaches can carry the eggs of many parasitic worms including the hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm.

These parasites can be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms can mimic other conditions like food poisoning.

Symptoms include diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and anemia.

4. Dysentery

Anyone who played the game Oregon Trail growing up will be familiar with Dysentery. This inflammation of the GI tract causes diarrhea that contains blood and mucus.

Dysentery is caused by the bacteria shigella or entamoeba, a parasite.

This disease used to be a much more serious problem before modern medicine, but today most people will recover just fine with rest and plenty of fluids.

5. Enterococcus

Enterococcus is a disease caused by the bacteria enterococcus faecalis. As the name implies, this bacterium is spread when cockroaches walk through or eat contaminated feces.

Enterococcus can cause meningitis, urinary tract infections, or blood poisoning in people with weakened immune systems.

6. Cholera

Cholera is an infection caused by the bacteria vibrio cholerae.

The major symptom is acute diarrhea, but symptoms don’t occur in 80% of people infected. Of the people who experience symptoms, only 20% experience serious complications like severe dehydration.

7. Typhoid Fever

This bacterial infection is caused by salmonella typhi. It is a highly infectious disease that is spread when cockroaches walk in or eat contaminated feces.

Typhoid fever is not very common in the U.S., and symptoms usually improve quickly when treatment is started early.

Symptoms include a high fever, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, and muscle aches.

8. Leprosy

Many insects, cockroaches included, are thought to be carriers of mycobacterium leprae, the bacteria that causes Leprosy.

Leprosy is not highly infections, and people can have this disease for up to 20 years without experiencing any symptoms!

If left untreated, Leprosy can cause permanent skin, eye, and nerve damage.

9. Bubonic Plague

Yes, this is the same plague that you learned about in high school that wiped out much of the world’s population in the 14th century.

Rats may come to mind when you think of the plague, but cockroaches are more likely to spread this disease.

Luckily, the Bubonic Plague is much less problematic in modern times. Less than 150 deaths occur per year worldwide.

Symptoms of the Bubonic Plague include muscle cramps, high fever, and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms are caused by a bacterium called yersinia pestis.

Other Problems Caused by Roaches

Bites. Although relatively uncommon, cockroaches can bite and may do so if you fall asleep with any food remnants on your hands or face. Cockroach bites resemble large mosquito bites and may be itchy or painful.

Crawling into orifices. If you’re squeamish and have made it this far, you may want to skip this section.

Cockroaches can crawl into orifices on the human body and get stuck. There have been reports of people showing up to the ER with cockroaches lodged in their ears!

This may sound like a freak accident, but EENT specialists see cases like this on a monthly basis.

Does the thought of a cockroach in your ear makes you never want to sleep again?

You can help prevent this from happening by showering before bed and cleaning your ears. yes, seriously!

You should also avoid eating in bed and wash your sheets weekly.

How to Prevent Cockroaches

The best way to prevent cockroaches is to keep your house clean. Cockroaches are drawn to food, water, and messy homes. Take out the trash before going to bed and make sure the sink is free of dirty dishes.

You should also eliminate any moisture in your home. Check under sinks and in bathrooms for any water accumulation and avoid leaving wet towels on the floor.

It is also important to make sure your house is well sealed. Cracks in doors and loose siding can be a highway for bugs to enter your home.

Cockroaches can be extremely difficult to get rid of. Oftentimes a professional is necessary and multiple treatments may be needed to get rid of them completely. If you don’t have an infestation already, do your best to prevent one by keeping your home neat and tidy.

Takeaway Notes

  • Cockroaches are one of the most common household pests and love dark, moist places.
  • Their reputation for spreading disease is well-earned – they can carry bacteria that causes food poisoning, enterococcus, and even the plague!
  • These pests will walk through or eat contaminated feces which makes its way onto your food or dishes.
  • Cockroaches can crawl into the nose and ears and get stuck, requiring medical attention.
  • Avoid an infestation by keeping your house clean and dry and sealing up any cracks or holes.
Kelli Yates
Kelli Yates
Kelli Yates is a health and nutrition writer, dietetics student, and co-host and creator of The Nutrition Nerds Podcast. In her spare time she teaches the free class Well-Fed Survival: Eating Healthy After A Disaster, which helps people build nutritious emergency food supplies and prepare for natural disasters.
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