P. americana

Staphylococcus aureus

Streptococcus faecalis

Vibrio spp. Yersinia pestis


Wound infection, skin infection, infection of internal organs


Not applicable Plague

Blaberus craniifer, Blatta orientalis,

Blatta orientalis,

P. americana Blatta orientalis B. orientalis indicative of the natural microbial fauna and flora in our domestic environment. Under certain circumstances, however, cockroaches have the potential for serving as secondary vectors of agents that normally are transmitted by other means. Anecdotal accounts associating diseases in humans with the occurrence of cockroaches and microbes lend some credence to the hypothesis that these pests can serve as vectors. Burgess (1982) reported the isolation from German cockroaches of a serotype of S. dysenteriae that was responsible for an outbreak of dysentery in Northern Ireland. Mackerras and Mackerras (1948) isolated S. bovis-morbificans and S. typhimurium from cockroaches captured in a hospital ward where gastroenteritis, attributed to the former organism, was common. In subsequent experimental studies, Salmonella organisms remained viable in the feces of cockroaches for as long as 40 days postinfection (Mackerras and Mackerras 1949). Some of the most compelling circumstantial evidence suggesting that cockroaches may be vectors was noted in a correlation between cases of infectious hepatitis and cockroach control at a housing project during 1956— 1962 in southern California (Tarshis 1962). The study area involved more than 580 apartments and 2800 persons; 95% of the apartments had German cockroaches and a lesser infestation of brownbanded and Oriental cockroaches. After pest control measures were initiated, the incidence of endemic infectious hepatitis decreased for 1 year. When treatments were discontinued during the following year because the insecticide was offensive to apartment dwellers, the cockroach population increased, accompanied by a corresponding increase in the incidence of hepatitis. Effective control measures were applied for the following 2 years, and cockroach populations and cases of infectious hepatitis dropped dramatically while hepatitis rates remained high in nearby housing projects where no pest control measures were conducted.

Cockroaches can serve as intermediate hosts for animal parasites (Table III). Roth and Willis (1960) published an extensive list of biotic associations between cockroaches and parasitic organisms that potentially infest humans. The eggs of seven species of helminths have been found naturally associated with cockroaches. These include hookworms (Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus), giant human roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), other Ascaris species, pinworm (Entero-bius vermicularis), tapeworms (Hymenolepisspecies), and the whipworm Trichuris trichuria. Development of these helminths in cockroaches has not been observed. These relationships probably represent incidental associations with the omnivorous feeding behavior of cockroaches.

However, cockroaches may serve as potential reservoirs and possible vectors through mechanical transfer in areas where a high incidence of these pathogens in humans is accompanied by substantial cockroach infestations. Human infestations by spirurid nematodes associated with cockroaches are known only for the cattle gullet worm ( Gongylonema pulchrum) in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa and for the stomach worm Abbreviata caucasia in Africa, Israel, Colombia, and Chile. Human cases involving these parasites are rare and cause no pathology.

Cockroach Allergies

It is only in recent years that the importance of cockroach allergies has been recognized. Allergic reactions result after initial sensitization to antigens following inhalation, ingestion, dermal abrasion, or injection. Allergens produced by cockroaches are rapidly being recognized as one of the more significant indoor allergens of modernized societies. Among asthmatics, about half are allergic to cockroaches. This rate is exceeded only by allergies to house-dust mites. Sensitivity to cockroaches also affects about 10% of nonallergic individuals, suggesting a subclinical level of allergy.

Symptoms exhibited by persons allergic to cockroaches are similar to those described by Wirtz (1980), who reported on occupational allergies in entomologists. They include sneezing and a runny nose, skin reactions, and eye irritation in about two-thirds of the cases. In the more severe cases, individuals may experience difficulty breathing or, even more alarming, anaphylactic shock following exposure to cockroaches. Such allergic reactions can be life-threatening (Brenner et al., 1991).

In recent years, research has focused on determining the specific components of cockroaches that cause allergy. Laboratory technicians exhibit strong allergies to cast skins and excrement of German cockroaches, whereas most patients seen at allergy clinics react primarily to cast skins and whole-body extracts of German cockroaches. Once an individual has become hypersensitized, he or she may experience severe respiratory distress simply by entering a room where cockroaches are held.

Several proteins that can cause human allergies have been identified in the German cockroach. Different exposure histories are likely to result in allergies to different proteins. Cast skins, excrement, and partially consumed food of cockroaches, in addition to living cockroaches, all produce allergenic proteins. Some are extremely persistent and can survive boiling water, ultraviolet light, and harsh pH changes, remaining allergenically potent for decades. Traditionally, whole-body extracts have been used to screen for allergens in skin tests and in bronchial challenges for diagnosing cockroach allergies

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