Cockroaches are serious threats to human health. They carry dozens of types of bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella, that can sicken people. And the saliva, feces and body parts they leave behind may not only trigger allergies and asthma but could cause the condition in some children.
A Purdue University study led by Michael Scharf, professor and O.W. Rollins/Orkin Chair in the Department of Entomology, now finds evidence that German cockroaches (Blattella germanica L.) are becoming more difficult to eliminate as they develop cross-resistance to exterminators’ best insecticides. The problem is especially prevalent in urban areas and in low-income or federally subsidized housing where resources to effectively combat the pests aren’t as available.
“This is a previously unrealized challenge in cockroaches,” said Scharf, whose findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports. “Cockroaches developing resistance to multiple classes of insecticides at once will make controlling these pests almost impossible with chemicals alone.”
Each class of insecticide works in a different way to kill cockroaches. Exterminators will often use insecticides that are a mixture of multiple classes or change classes from treatment to treatment. The hope is that even if a small percentage of cockroaches is resistant to one class, insecticides from other classes will eliminate them.
Scharf and his study co-authors set out to test those methods at multi-unit buildings in Indiana and Illinois over six months. In one treatment, three insecticides from different classes were rotated into use each month for three months and then repeated. In the second, they used a mixture of two insecticides from different classes for six months. In the third, they chose an insecticide to which cockroaches had low-level starting resistance and used it the entire time.
In each location, cockroaches were captured before the study and lab-tested to determine the most effective insecticides for each treatment, setting up the scientists for the best possible outcomes.
“If you have the ability to test the roaches first and pick an insecticide that has low resistance, that ups the odds,” Scharf said. “But even then, we had trouble controlling populations.”
For full article: Rapid cross-resistance bringing cockroaches closer to invincibility.
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Michael E. Scharf, Professor and O.W. Rollins/Orkin Chair
Purdue Department of Entomology
Brian J. Wallheimer, Science Writer
Purdue College of Agriculture