Cockroaches in homes are a health hazard to many children and families because of the risks cockroach antigens pose to asthma sufferers. Traditionally, cockroaches were controlled because they are offensive, leave behind an awful smell, and cause gastrointestinal and respiratory illness. However, research shows that cockroach debris (old shells, saliva, body parts, and droppings) triggers asthma attacks in people who are sensitized to cockroach antigen (proteins found in the debris). In homes where several allergens are present, including dust mites, mold, furry pets, tobacco smoke, and certain chemicals, children may experience severe and frequent asthma attacks from high airborne concentrations of these allergens.
Any home with food or moisture can have cockroaches. Kitchens and bathrooms typically have the highest number of cockroaches due to the presence of food products and moisture from plumbing fixtures. Apartment buildings often have the worst infestations. The goal is to keep cockroaches out of the home and to eliminate existing pests. Reaching this goal is not always easy, especially in multi-unit housing that is already infested. For most apartment buildings, the landlord must take a building-wide approach to controlling these pests. Moreover, a coordinated effort by the landlord and all tenants is required to eliminate cockroaches.
Integrated pest management techniques that control cockroaches through moisture control and other interventions can also help to minimize exposure to other environmental hazards, including lead and mold. Moisture from leaky roofs, plumbing fixtures, spills, damp areas in the kitchen and bathroom, and other sources should be minimized, along with access to food, accumulation of trash, and holes and cracks in the walls. Safe and effective pest management techniques must be utilized, as some chemicals used to treat pests are toxic, may exacerbate asthma symptoms, and are not successful at ridding homes of cockroaches.
Because children spend more time indoors, allergens found in homes and other buildings pose a significant health risk for asthma sufferers. With asthma rates growing at a startling rate, the hazard posed by the presence of any cockroaches must be addressed.
Sources and Additional Information:
Beyond Pesticides – Integrated pest management to control cockroaches – www.beyondpesticides.org/alternatives/factsheets/COCKROACH%20CONTROL.pdf and www.beyondpesticides.org/infoservices/pesticidesandyou/Winter%2001-02/Good%20Riddance%20to%20Roaches.pdf
Environmental Health Watch – www.ehw.org/Asthma/ASTH_Cockroach_Control.htm
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences – www.niehs.nih.gov/airborne/prevent/roach.html
US Environmental Protection Agency – www.epa.gov/iaq/asthma/pests.html