As one of the most ubiquitous and resilient household pests, cockroaches have long been able to elicit a unique fear in the humans who encounter them. Perhaps it is their well-known predilection for unsanitary environments or the scuttling manner in which they walk. It may even be the daunting knowledge that wiping out a cockroach population can present a significant challenge, given their hardy nature. Whatever the case may be, the sight of just one of these nocturnal nuisances is enough to give any homeowner or restaurant-goer a fright, because where there is one there are usually more.
In fact, it is estimated that in urban areas, an extraordinary 78-98 percent of homes play host to cockroaches, and often, the homeowners never even know they are there. Cockroaches are both nocturnal and shy, so even a large population can slip by undetected. Additionally, they typically reside in places where humans rarely go, hiding in cracks and crevices, garbage bins, drains, or even inside appliances.
As an omnivorous creature, they have a variety of food sources, some of which are quite morbid, such as dead skin, dried blood, feces, or even other roaches. Typically, however, they prefer to eat sweet and starchy food that is found in human kitchens or in the garbage. As if eating our food weren’t enough, roaches will then regularly excrete their digested products as a mix of disgorged food and feces. They will also discharge a foul-smelling secretion from both their mouths and gland openings on their body as part of their digestive process, releasing a long-lasting and pungent odor that can signal an infestation.
It is for good reason, therefore, that cockroaches are considered repugnant. They can be carriers of disease and bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella and can facilitate the spread of other infections, such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, leprosy, typhoid fever, and other viruses. Asthma and other allergies may also be worsened by the presence of cockroaches, and certain proteins that are produced by cockroaches can prompt occasionally severe reactions in allergy-prone people. It is unlikely for cockroaches to be the direct cause of a disease spreading, as they serve more of an ancillary facilitator role.
So, do cockroaches bite?
However, their identity as a potential disease carrier does pose a direct threat to human health in the event of a sustained cockroach bite. Cockroaches have been known to bite humans in the past, although it is rare. They are more likely to feed on the deceased than the living, and if they do feed on the living, they will often preferentially snack on dead tissue of the skin, nails, or hair. The other main places that cockroaches bite are the face, hands, mouth, and fingers, possibly because these locations are more likely to contain residual traces of food.
Although it depends on individual pain tolerance, roaches bites rarely inflict significant pain. Most often they are described as causing a brief twinge that lasts only a few seconds. Despite the transient nature of the inflicted pain, roach bites are actually quite powerful. One scientific study found that roaches bite with a force greater than 50 times their own body weight, which is approximately five times stronger than the human jaw.
After sustaining a roach bite, it is common to develop a 1-4mm red spot, similar in size and appearance to mosquito bites. Often these spots will be itchy, and a rash may develop. For individuals allergic to roaches, a stronger reaction may occur. This can include swelling, a more significant rash, or a larger raised red area. Although these bites are similar in appearance to bed bug bites, it is possible to differentiate the two. Typically roach bites will be standalone, whereas bed bug bites are more commonly found in clusters or straight lines.
How to treat roach bites
If you are bitten by a cockroach, the best way to treat your bite is using conservative methods that are commonly applied to other types of benign insect bites. The best advice is to avoid scratching the bite, as this can lead further aggravate the skin and make you more vulnerable to infection. Additionally, applying an ice pack to the bite for 15-20 minutes a few times a day, keeping the area elevated to minimize swelling, and using either a homeopathic lavender based cream or hydrocortisone cream can be helpful. However, it is important to consult your doctor prior to applying any medicated cream to your skin.
Children or babies who are bitten by cockroaches should be treated in the same manner as adults. Close attention should be paid to babies who have sustained bites, as they are unable to verbalize their symptoms in the same manner as adults. They may also be more prone to picking or scratching, which can further exacerbate their symptoms. If redness or rash persists longer than a few days, it may be time to consult a doctor, as children’s immune systems are often not as robust as adults, and more drastic treatment measures may need to be taken.
Roach bite prevention
The best way to prevent future roach bites is to assess the level of infestation that you are dealing with. Consulting a pest removal company is a crucial first step towards eliminating your roach problem. In the interim, it is always helpful to maintain good home hygiene, as this will reduce the number of places where roaches can live and breed. Sweeping and vacuuming on a regular basis, as well as doing the dishes immediately following meals, scrubbing countertops, sealing gaps or cracks in your home’s infrastructure, and removing any standing water or leaking pipes are often essential for preventing roach invasions.
Cockroaches can appear to be a formidable enemy, but you should take comfort in knowing that although gross, they will rarely cause you direct harm. Implementing basic cleaning measures, staying knowledgeable and aware, and reaching out to reputable pest companies when necessary will ensure that you stay safe from cockroaches!