Pest and Pet Allergens

(Español) Exposure to pest allergens from cockroaches, dust mites, and rodents can cause serious allergic and asthmatic reactions. Children are particularly susceptible. Exposure to these allergens at a young age—even in the womb—can increase babies’ and children’s risk of developing asthma, respiratory symptoms such as wheezing and coughing, eczema, and allergies. For that reason, it is critical to minimize pregnant women’s and children’s exposure to pest allergens. Fortunately, the Center’s Integrated Pest Management interventions using low-toxic pesticides have been effective at significantly reducing pests and pest allergen levels in homes.

What We Know About Pest Allergens

Many urban areas in the United States have cockroach and rodent infestations. Not only are they annoying and stressful, they also carry pathogenic organisms that get transferred to food and surfaces through waste products and bits of shed skin. Pregnant women and children who are exposed to these organisms are at higher risk for allergic sensitization that leads to asthma and other respiratory illness. Pest allergen exposure can also trigger attacks in asthmatics. Following are key findings from the Center’s New York City research on pest allergens and children’s health:

  • More than half the babies in our Mothers and Newborns Study in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx have been born with an immune response to cockroach proteins that may increase the risk of asthma in certain children (Miller et al., 2001).

  • Pest infestation, allergen levels, and pesticide use are higher among women and babies living in the most derelict housing (Rauh et al., 2002).

  • In the Center’s evaluation of the New York City Housing Authority’s intervention to reduce toxic pesticide use in public housing, high cockroach and mouse allergen levels were significantly associated with asthma prevalence among children and adults, controlling for a range of potential confounders (Chew et al., 2006).

What You Can Do

Making simple changes at home to control pest infestation can help prevent allergy and asthma in children and can reduce triggers for family members who already have asthma. Integrated Pest Management practices are easy to use and inexpensive. Following are a few IPM tips:

  • Clean and dust your home regularly, particularly in the kitchen area where crumbs and dust can attract cockroaches and rodents.

  • Dust your child’s toys often, using a damp washcloth.

  • Limit pets to a restricted area in the home and keep them away from upholstered furniture, carpets, and stuffed toys.

  • If your children are sensitive to allergens, keep them away from pets and dust as much as possible.