Avoid health risks by keeping cockroaches out of your home

Learn how to prevent cockroaches in your home and steps to eliminate an existing cockroach infestation.

Cockroaches are extremely adaptable and resilient insects. Penn State University Extension reports that fossil studies show cockroaches have been in existence on earth for over 300 million years. They are so hardy that certain species can remain active for a month without feeding while others have been known to survive feeding only on glue from backs of postage stamps. Even the Discovery Channel’s well-known science program, MythBusters, conducted an experiment where cockroaches released after being submerged under water for 30 minutes, first appeared dead but eventually revived.

With over 3,500 known species of cockroaches worldwide, 55 of these species have been found in the United States. The four species most well-known as common indoor pests in the United States are the American, German, Asian, and Oriental. Cockroaches can be found in restaurants, hospitals, warehouses, buildings with food-handling areas, and homes. Most species of cockroaches are nocturnal and actively avoid light. They will feed on an amazing variety of materials including cheese, beer, bakery products, leather, paper, glue, hair, flakes of dried skin, dead animals, and soiled clothing.

Because they tend to frequent damp and unsanitary places (sewers, garbage disposals, bathrooms, etc.) contamination from these areas can be spread by cockroaches to food supplies, food preparation surfaces, dishes, and utensils. Disease-producing organisms (bacteria, protozoa, viruses) are commonly found on cockroach bodies and legs. Exposure to these pathogens can cause food poisoning, diarrhea, dysentery, or another form of gastroenteritis. In addition, some individuals are allergic to cockroach excrement and their cast-off skins. Allergic reactions can take the form of asthma, skin rashes, watery eyes, sneezing, and nasal congestion.

What can you do to prevent cockroaches from invading your home?

  • The University of Minnesota Extension and other websites note that cockroaches typically enter your home by being carried inside via bags, boxes, luggage, and other types of containers. They recommend you closely and carefully examine any containers for both cockroaches and egg capsules before bringing them indoors.
  • Maintaining good sanitation practices in your home is also essential. Any food not refrigerated should be stored in insect-proof glass, metal, or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Always clean up countertops, sinks, and tables after use with soapy water and wash dishes, utensils, and pans as soon as done using them. Even pet food and water should not be left out overnight. Keep garbage in closed plastic containers, and remove it from the house daily. If you recycle, do so frequently and make sure to thoroughly rinse empty cans and bottles being stored as well as the bins that hold them.
  • Dripping faucets and leaky pipes should be repaired to make your home less appealing to those species that prefer moist, damp areas. Seal off possible entry points into your home including holes around baseboards, kitchen cabinets, pipes, doors, and windows.
  • Frequent sweeping or vacuuming of food and debris with special attention to cracks and crevices is strongly recommended.

If you do find that a cockroach infestation is occurring in your home, in addition to the above measures, you will likely need to treat the affected area with one or more chemical products. Boric acid, silica aerogel, and diatomaceous earth are all dusts that can be applied to cracks and crevices where you suspect cockroaches are hiding. Following directions for application is very important with special caution to apply these products out of the reach of pets and small children. There are also a variety of commercial cockroach baits and traps available that you may wish to purchase. Again, careful handling and storage of any insecticide being used is very important to protect yourself, family members, pets and livestock, and the environment. If you are not comfortable with using these products yourself, you may prefer to hire a pest control company.

You can learn more about food handling and storage, pest management, and other home-related topics by visiting the Michigan State University Extension website.

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