Cockroaches: Health Risks — Prevention — Fantastic Pest Control


This is the nightmare of every kitchen, home and office—the ever-present cockroach. It is an unpleasant topic for a conversation. Yet we believe it is important to understand the basic aspects of a cockroach infestation.

Species of Cockroaches in The UK

The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana)

One of the biggest exports of the USA. Its wings allow it to fly over only short distances. This cockroach is one of the largest cockroaches in the UK, reaching up to 30mm.It is a dark-brown, mahogany-coloured insect.

The German cockroach (Blattella germanica)

The only specie found in the UK (or in Europe) which can fly. It is by far the most common type found on Great Britain. They are pale insects which reach 12mm-15mm in length.

The Brown banded cockroach (Supella longipalpa)

A light-brown insect with a body that reaches 10mm-15mm. Although its small size, the sheer population of its colonies make it impossible not to detect.

Facts about Cockroaches

Feeding habits

All cockroaches are omnivorous scavengers. They consume any organic matter they come across. This includes food only specific bacteria can dissolve. Cockroaches can eat leather, wallpaper paste, soap, glue, eyelashes, toenails, eyebrows and even hair. If this doesn’t disgust you enough, they will also devour fingerprints, sugar, dry leaves and rotten wood. They feed on the content of your sewage and even the greasy impression of any food you have left on your kitchen counter.

Cockroaches are quick to locate such food sources, and can survive without food for one month. It is still an unlikely occurrence for a cockroach to die due to starvation—unless you sever its head off, that is. And if they indeed can’t find a food source, they can always resolve to bite humans. Bites are always an indicator their population has been long out of control. If you are bitten by one, you should seek professional pest control help immediately.

Health Effects

Though considered to be “dirty” or “filthy”, roaches, like cats, groom themselves all the time. They spread fewer bacteria than we do with our hands. Still, the bacteria they spread are dangerous enough on their own. They also emit a powerful scent most people are allergic to. Strong allergic reactions can result in swelling, rashes and breathing difficulties.

Roaches are also a well-known cause of asthma, especially to kids exposed to their organic and faecal matter. Detritus from death cockroaches is lifted by weak air currents and inhaled by people. Roaches are also a disease vector, and can spread staphylococcus, streptococcus and salmonella. Last but not least cockroach bites can cause swelling, irritation and even minor infections.

Where Roaches Lay Eggs?

Here are the most common places where cockroaches lay eggs:

  • Dark places – roaches love the darkness. It’s safe and it feels hard to reach, so it’s naturally a good place to lay eggs. Check behind or under or even in your cupboards;
  • Furniture – just like humans, roaches love comfy furniture. And what better place to hide your precious oothecae than in a comfy, warm and secure sofa;
  • Warm appliances – a safe and cosy spot is just right under your fridge. Under the oven or washing machine is also a possibility;
  • Cabinets – the same reasons – darkness, safety, and there is access to food.

Not all cockroaches leave their eggs. Some species carry the oothecae with them until they hatch. Others will carry them for a few hours or days and leave the eggs in a safe spot. German, Oriental and American leave their eggs, and they are all quite common in different UK areas.

Causes of Infestation

Cockroaches posses unmatched survival skills and breed in huge numbers. They can also flatten their bodies to the extreme. This allows them to get inside your property through any cracks and holes in the structure. Walls, pipes, gutters, roof, doors, or even through air conditioning tubes often serve as an entrance.

Still, there is a higher chance of an infestation in premises with bad hygiene conditions. Wet, warm places offer a perfect breeding ground for those insects. They occupy areas such as laundry rooms, boxes, shelves, books and cupboards. Cockroaches can even hide in your laundry to protect themselves in case of danger. Cockroaches are nocturnal animals and hide if they feel the presence of humans.

Severe infestation can force the insects to look for new habitats anywhere in your property. They are even known to infest electrical appliances such as fridges, toasters and dishwashers.


Cockroaches are resistant to many types of insecticides. Different strains of cockroaches are unaffected by different chemicals. This means it is not possible to tell what chemical your specific bunch is immune to. Consumer-end bug sprays are not particularly effective, and as we said earlier, are also toxic to humans.

Roaches are also well-known for their radiation resistance. This is due to the fact their cells don’t divide as fast as the cells of other living creatures. While this is of interest to scientists, we dearly hope your infestation problem does not require uranium or plutonium to treat.


While it is rare to witness a cockroach in broad daylight, there are other signs of their presence:

  • Obtrusive almond scent
  • Their egg sacks – they look like dark-brown seeds or dead worms.
  • Newly-hatched nymphs – they are pale white in colour.
  • Droppings – their excrements are brown/black in colour, around 2mm long and cyllindrical in shape.
  • Irregular-shaped brown smear marks
  • Shed skin


Few people would want cockroaches as their pets of choice. Even then, it is best to keep them in special terrarium containers and not in your kitchen or bathroom. To prevent such situations, you can do the following things:

  • Store your food in the fridge and not on the kitchen counter top.
  • Do not wait for rubbish to accumulate—throw it away every two or three days at most.
  • Clean all surfaces after cooking as grease marks can attract those gruesome insects.
  • Ensure there are no cracks on your pipes and seal your windows and doors.
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Roaches are extremely resilient and run for cover at the slightest sign of danger. They are better at hiding than you are at finding them. They can survive without food for up to one month (some agile species can survive up to three months). They also can feed on any type of organic matter. Roaches reproduce rapidly. Today there are many consumer-level resilient products that ward them off. Still, they can escape fumes and toxic chemicals with no effort. Also, if you are not keen on playing a hide-and-seek game with those pests, it is best advised to seek professional help.

If you do wish to engage in such operations, be advised that most pesticides and baits contain dangerous chemicals. Baits must also be placed correctly, and out-of-the-reach of pets and kids. The proper use of boric acid has also proved to be efficient. The best solution is to use a combination of all those methods. Most experienced specialists have this down to a science.

What to do in case of a cockroach infestation?

First, throw away any food that has been left unattended outside your fridge. Check your wet rooms—toilet, bathroom and laundry room—for signs of possible infestation. You may proceed with inefficient DIY-methods but we advise you against it.

The chemicals contained in most insecticides are more toxic to humans and pets than to cockroaches. It is always better to call reliable professionals than to risk it. Often people believe they’ve gotten rid of the problem while the only thing removed are the signs of the infestation.

Are you suffering from a cockroach infestation?

Keep in mind that we only aim to provide some useful information about how to identify cockroaches. We cannot guarantee that the bugs you’re dealing with corresponds to the same description and are exactly cockroaches.

Do cockroaches bite: how dangerous it is for humans, unpleasant consequences, how this happens and protective measures

Renee DiPietro, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist, Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator

Did you know that a bite from your furry friend Felis domesticus (house cat), can have dire consequences? As a person who very recently spent 3 days hospitalized on IV antibiotics for a cat bite, I thought I would share a little public service warning. If your cat, or any other cat for that matter ever bites you, don’t take it lightly or try to treat this injury at home.

A couple of weeks ago I was bitten by a cat in the upper arm while working at a veterinary clinic. I cleaned the wounds well and then went straight to an urgent care facility as my own health care provider had no appointments available until the end of the day. Knowing what can happen if a cat bite goes untreated I chose urgent care. I cleaned the bites well, immediately. Within 2 hours of the bite I had been examined, treated, and started on oral antibiotics. For the rest of the day the heat and pain in and around the bite wounds grew. By evening I started to feel unwell but I attributed this to the anti-biotics. By bed time I was running a low- grade fever and the spreading redness and heat on my arm indicated that the bite wounds had become infected. We headed to the ER.

Now this is not my first cat bite rodeo, or even my first infected cat bite rodeo. (Studies show that 50 % of cat bites become infected) I have been bitten by cats, dogs, horses, hamsters, eagles, turtles, and even taloned by an owl during my career. I have always taken these wounds in stride as part of my occupation. This incident was different and more severe than I personally have ever experienced, but it not an uncommon outcome among cat bite victims. I am going to tell you why.

The bacterial flora in a cat’s mouth include some nasty anaerobic bacteria (thriving where oxygen is not present). The most common offender in the cat’s mouth is Pasteurella multocida. This bacteria is also present in the mouths of other animals that bite, but in cats the potential for this pathogen to cause serious infection is amplified by feline dental structure when a cat bite occurs. Cat’s teeth are sharp, like a needle. When a cat bites you they basically inject this aggressive pathogen (and others) deep into your tissue. This plunges the bacteria right into a warm, dark, low oxygen environment which is optimal for the development of infection. From there, an aggressive cellulitis (skin infection) can take root and spread quickly. Additional complications can include Osteomyelitis (bone infection), Sepsis, (a life threatening systemic response to infection), chronic local infection, disfigurement etc. Treatment for infected cat bites often requires hospitalization, treatment with IV antibiotics, surgery, and in rare cases amputations.

Studies have found that up to 90% of domestic cats carry Pasteurella in their mouths.

A Mayo Clinic study on infected cat bites found that 72 % of people hospitalized immediately after presentation to an ER for an infected cat bite required surgery as part of their medical treatment.

I am still on antibiotics, and the jury is still out on whether I will be having surgery.

Another significant concern when one is bitten by a cat, or any mammal, is the animal’s vaccine status and potential to transmit Rabies. Cats, like all other mammals can be infected with and carry Rabies. This neurologic virus if left untreated is almost always fatal. If you think the above described infection sounds bad, contracting Rabies would be astronomically worse. Once symptoms appear the chance for a good outcome (one where you don’t die) is basically nil.

Rabies is a public health hazard and if you are bitten by an unvaccinated mammal it is taken very seriously. The cat that bit me was not vaccinated. I have been vaccinated for Rabies for over 20 years and have always had good titers when checked every two years to make sure the vaccine was still protective in my system. Regardless of this, while in the ER I received rabies post exposure treatment. Fun times. For me this included several injections of Human Rabies Immune Globulin. They want to get this as close as they can to any potential Rabies virus particles in the bite wounds. In my case this meant that the injections were injected all around the bite wounds in the infected area. Can you say ouch? After that I also received a booster to my rabies vaccine and then 2 more boosters on days 2 and four after the bite. So much fun.

You can find pictures of my own personal incident at the bottom of this article. If you are squeamish you may want to avoid them. If you choose to look, you will see where the nurses in the hospital drew circles on my arm to track the infection as it spread.

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Long story short, avoid cat bites at all costs. It is not worth the risk. How can you do this? With your own cat at home it is important to teach them from kitten hood that biting is not okay, even during play. It is best not to encourage rough play that involves your hands or other body parts with a kitten or adult cat.

For tips on teaching your cat or kitten not to bite, consult with your veterinarian or a pet behaviorist. Do not attempt medical procedures (taking a temperature for example) or significant grooming procedures on your own cat without assistance, (preferably professional experience) or proper training in cat restraint.

For your own safety, avoid petting cats on the street that you do not know, no matter how friendly they seem. If you are attempting to rescue a cat, wear thick gloves when handling it and have it examined immediately by a licensed veterinarian.

If you are bitten by a cat, wash the wound immediately with soap and water, and then immediately seek medical care. This is not something to play with. As evidenced by my story, even a cat bite treated immediately can become a serious health issue.

So…. love your wonderful feline friend, help that homeless kitten, but for goodness sake, avoid those teeth!

A bite from this fly puts you into a deadly sleep

A bite from a tsetse fly can infect you with a terrifying parasite that brings on a deep and possibly fatal sleep

  • By Melissa Hogenboom

19 December 2016

A bite from a tsetse fly is an extremely unpleasant experience. It is not like a mosquito, which can furrow its thin mouthpart directly into your blood, often without you noticing. In contrast, the tsetse fly’s mouth has tiny serrations on it that saw into your skin on its way to suck out your blood.

To make matters worse, several species of tsetse fly can transmit diseases. One of the most dangerous is a parasite that causes «sleeping sickness», or «human African trypanosomiasis»to give it its official name. Without treatment, an infection is usually fatal.

Like so many tropical diseases, sleeping sickness has often been neglected by pharmaceutical researchers. However, researchers have long endeavoured to understand how it evades our bodies’ defence mechanisms. Some of their insights could now help us eliminate sleeping sickness altogether.

There are two closely-related single-celled parasites that cause this deathly sleep: Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense and T. b. gambiense. The latter is far more prevalent: it is responsible for up to 95% of cases, mostly in western Africa. It takes several years to kill a person, while T. b. rhodesiense can cause death within months. There are still other forms that infect livestock.

After the initial bite, sleeping sickness symptoms often start with a fever, headaches and aching muscles. As the illness goes on, those infected become increasingly tired, which is where it gets its name. Personality changes, severe confusion and poor coordination can also happen.

A person can have no symptoms but still both harbour the disease and spread it

While medication does help, some treatments are toxic and can themselves be lethal, especially if they are given after the disease has reached the brain.

It is worth noting that sleeping sickness is no longer as deadly as it once was. In the early 20th Century several hundred thousand people were infected each year. By the 1960s the disease was considered «under control» and had reached very low numbers, making its spread more difficult. But in the 1970s there was another major epidemic, which took 20 years to control.

Since then, better screening programmes and earlier interventions have reduced the number of cases dramatically. In 2009 there were fewer than 10,000 cases for the first time since records began, and in 2015 this figure dropped to fewer than 3,000, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO hopes the disease will be completely eliminated by 2020.

While this decline looks positive, there may be many more cases that go unreported in rural Africa. To eliminate the disease completely, infections have to be closely monitored.

More problematically, a series of new studies have shown that the parasite is more complicated than previously believed.

Sleeping sickness has always been considered – and diagnosed – as a blood disease, because T. brucei parasites can readily be detected in the blood of its victims. However, in a study published in September 2016 researchers found that the parasite can reside in the skin and fat, as well as in the blood.

There may even be a higher density of the parasite in the skin than in the blood, says co-author Annette MacLeod of the University of Glasgow, UK. A tsetse fly drinking a person’s blood can «take up the skin-welling parasites along with the blood.»

You can harbour these parasites for a long time and be okay

That means a person can have no symptoms but still both harbour the disease and spread it. «We think the skin is therefore a hidden reservoir of infection,» says MacLeod. People carrying the infection in their skin would not be treated, as those with detectable levels of the parasite in their blood are given medication.

The finding could explain the mysterious 1970s epidemic, and why the disease can spring up in areas that had previously been cleared.

«We had one person from Sierra Leone but hadn’t been back for 29 years, and then came down with late-stage sleeping sickness,» says MacLeod. «You can harbour these parasites for a long time and be okay.»

That is not the only reason why the parasites can evade our immune systems.

In 2014, Etienne Pays of the University of Brussels in Belgium described the history of sleeping sickness as an «arms race» between humans and the parasite. In this battle, our key weapon is a protein called apolipoprotein L1, which is resistant to an earlier form of T. brucei.

This protein was «efficient in killing the parasite in the blood,» says Pays. «As far as we know, it was only there to kill the parasite.»

Pays now suspects that some people are resistant to all forms of the parasite

Unfortunately, over time the parasite found a way past the protein’s protection. While apolipoprotein L1 can still kill the variant that infects cattle, it is not effective against the two T. brucei strains that infect humans. These two «managed to escape,» says Pays.

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Pays and his team managed to tweak the protein in their lab to make it resistant to T. b. rhodesiense, the rare but more lethal form.

What they did not realise is that there are people in Africa who already have a similar defence system. Thanks to a mutation in the same protein, they have a natural immunity to T. b. rhodesiense. Pays now suspects that some people are resistant to all forms of the parasite.

Unfortunately, this natural immunity comes at a cost. Nobody knows why, but it has been linked to kidney disease in older age.

The challenge is to make a variant with no side effects. Pays’s team has made another protein able to kill both forms, but when they tested it in mice the animals died.

The parasite must cross the blood-brain barrier, which blocks most diseases and toxins

Pays is still tweaking this protein in the lab, in the hope that it will provide an effective cure. «We engineered another one, which we are currently testing,» he says.

If he can make it work, doctors will simply need to inject the protein into an infected person. It will then kill the parasite and disappear. This is promising, but there is an additional challenge.

The reason sleeping sickness is so deadly is that it can enter the brain. There it causes its most severe symptoms, such as confusion, hallucinations and poor coordination. Once in the brain it becomes harder to treat, and therefore more likely to be fatal. Doctors think of this as the second stage of the disease, the first being when it infects the blood.

To reach the brain, the parasite must cross the blood-brain barrier, which blocks most diseases and toxins. The key question is how it gets through. But again, it seems we may have had the wrong end of the stick.

A study published in October 2016 proposes that sleeping sickness actually has three distinct stages, not two as previously thought.

The first stage is the bite from the tsetse fly, after which the parasite infects the person’s blood. In the second stage, which was not previously identified, it appears in the cerebrospinal fluid and in three membranes that surround the brain, known as the meninges. In the third stage, the brain’s protective borders break down and a «mass invasion» of trypanosomes crosses the blood-brain barrier and attacks the brain.

The idea is to keep the host alive, so that the parasite has longer to infect others

Michael Duszenko of the University of Tübingen in Germany and his colleagues discovered the second stage in mice. They also found a reason why the third stage sometimes takes months or even years to occur. It turns out the parasite keeps itself in the second stage, actively slowing the progress of the disease.

To do so, it releases a compound called prostaglandin D2, which does two things. First, it induces sleep in the patient, making them more vulnerable to the bite of a tsetse fly. Secondly, it causes some of the parasite cells to start a process called apoptosis, or «cell death». In other words, the trypanosome purposely destroys some of its own cells.

Killing some of your own cells may sound like a bad idea, but doing so «reduces the burden for the host and increases the chance for parasites to be transmitted to the tsetse fly,» says Duszenko. The idea is to keep the host alive, so that the parasite has longer to infect others. If the concentration of parasites were to rise too quickly, the host would die before the parasite could spread to another.

This finding may help explain why some people live with chronic levels of the disease for years. Textbooks should now be rewritten accordingly, Duszenko says.

Despite these advances, there remains the problem is that T. brucei is extremely good at staying one step ahead of its hosts’ defence.

The parasite is particularly skilled at «antigenic variation»: it has over 1,000 versions of the protein in its outer surface but only displays one at a time, so the host’s immune system only makes antibodies against the one on display. In the meantime, some of the parasites have switched to another version, which cannot be attacked by these antibodies.

Every time the host makes antibodies against a new wave of parasites, some trypanosomes will switch to a new coat. «The immune response is always trying to catch up with the parasites,» says Martin Taylor of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK.

Fairly recently there’s been an effort to find drugs for these neglected diseases

Partly for this reason, there have been no new drugs for decades. One of the recommended drugs is Pentamidine, which treats first-stage T. b. gambiense. It was developed in 1940. Melarsoprol, which treats the final stage, was developed in 1949. It is toxic and causes death in about 5% of cases.

Another issue is that pharmaceutical companies have not invested much money into research on sleeping sickness: it is a neglected disease.

«The reason they are called neglected diseases is because they were neglected,» says Taylor. «Because they are diseases of the poorest people in developing countries, and since it takes millions of dollars to develop a drug to market, there isn’t the economic incentive to develop new drugs.»

That seems to have changed a bit in recent years. Some pharmaceutical companies have even partnered with not-for-profit organisations who push for new drugs, such as the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative.

MacLeod says there are two new drugs «in the pipeline» undergoing trials. «Fairly recently there’s been an effort to find drugs for these neglected diseases,» she says.

The disease will clearly be around for years to come. But by unlocking more of the parasite’s secrets, one day we might be able to put sleeping sickness to bed for the last time.

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