Cockroaches are considered to be dangerous as an allergen source and asthma trigger. They may also carry certain bacteria that can cause illnesses if left on food.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cockroaches are “unhygienic scavengers in human settlements.”

Keep reading to learn more about cockroaches, and what to look out for.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cockroaches do not bite. They can, however, scratch you with their heavy leg spines. And because they carry bacteria, a cockroach scratch could potentially become infected.

Although there’s little evidence linking cockroaches and specific disease outbreaks, cockroaches can carry bacteria.

According to a 2012 article published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research, cockroaches are one of the most common sources of indoor allergens.

It’s thought that the enzymes found in the excrement, shedding body parts, eggs, and saliva of cockroaches cause allergic reactions in many people.

According to the EPA, children are more susceptible to cockroach allergies than adults.

According to the National Pest Management Association, 63 percent of homes in the United States contain cockroach allergens. That number rises to between 78 and 98 percent in urban area homes.

To deal with cockroach allergy symptoms, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, such as:

OTC medications

Prescription medications

If you have asthma, your doctor may also prescribe bronchodilators or anti-inflammatory medication.

Along with professional extermination, you can reduce the cockroach population in your home by limiting their access to water, food, and shelter:

  • seal entry points such as cracks in floors and walls
  • fix leaky pipes
  • keep typically damp areas dry
  • use cockroach traps and bait
  • tightly cover all trash containers
  • store food in airtight containers (including food in cabinets)
  • clean dirty dishes immediately after use
  • clean pet food bowl (don’t leave pet food out)
  • sweep up food crumbs from tables, counters, stovetop, and floors
  • wipe up spills immediately
  • vacuum and mop floors regularly
  • clean (at least annually) around and under furniture that is rarely moved
  • clear out clutter from storage closets, shelves, and drawers

Cockroaches are insects. They have 6 long legs, 2 long antennae, and 2 pairs of wings. Depending on the type, an adult cockroach measures about 1/2 to 1 inch long.

Worldwide, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, there are thousands of species of cockroaches. Of those thousands, there are only about 30 types that are considered pests.

In the United States, the cockroaches that are considered pests include the:

  • American cockroach (Periplaneta americana)
  • German cockroach (Blattella germanica)
  • Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis)
  • Brown-banded cockroach (Supella longipalpa)

Cockroaches are found on every continent except Antarctica, and there are roach fossils that date back 350 million years.

Cockroaches are highly adaptable insects that are typically considered pests because they:

  • can be an allergen source and asthma trigger
  • can carry harmful bacteria
  • can scratch you with their leg spines

Cockroaches do not bite. If cockroaches are a problem in your home, contact a professional exterminator and take steps to limit their access to water, food, and shelter.