Study Shows Household Pests Linked to Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

The flu and other bacterial infections are hard enough to live through, but when antibiotics don’t cure them, they’re even more miserable. Many of us have read stories of “superbugs”—bacteria that resist some of the common antibiotics like penicillin and erythromycin. However, few of us have probably considered the possibility that the pesky household fly or German cockroach could contribute to those superbugs. According to a new study, some of the most common household pests spread not only bacteria, but antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well.

The study, published in BMC Microbiology and conducted by scientists at Kansas and North Carolina State University (may need to log in), compared bacteria in the feces of German cockroaches, house flies and pigs. The scientists discovered that not only were bacterial compositions similar among the three, but also that the bacteria was resistant to tetracycline, erythromycin, streptomycin and kanamycin, all common antibiotics used to treat infections.

According to an interview with ScienceDaily, Kansas State University author Ludek Zurek said that many farmers use antibiotics to promote growth among pigs. As a result, bacteria in the digestive tract can be selected for resistance to some of these antibiotics. When insects feed or rest on the feces, they expose themselves to some of the resistant bacteria.

Based on the methods used to collect data, the scientists’ findings suggest that some of the bacteria obtained by house flies and cockroaches who had visited a pig farm might transfer those bacteria to people in nearby residential areas. All of the fly and cockroach samples collected came from two farms: one in North Carolina and one in Kansas. No insect samples were collected from homes. So although Aqeel’s conclusions seem to imply that people are at greater risk of contracting “superbug” infections from flies and roaches, the chances of having such a fly or roach invade one’s house (unless one lives near a swine farm) are fairly remote.

However, the paper brings up a good reminder about why managing pests and following good food safety practices is so important, both for the farmer and the consumer. As spring approaches, many of us will see the return of insects, some of which will fly through an open door or window and others which will find cracks in the outside of the house and seek shelter indoors.

Everyone from farmer to consumer, therefore, can minimize the possibility of human infection by taking some common precautions:


  • Practice diligent integrated pest management to reduce the pest populations on the farm, even those that may not directly have an economic effect.
  • Implement IPM techniques such as chemistry rotation and “refuge” maintenance with antibiotics that are used.


  • Use screens on windows and doors to limit pest entry. Although warm weather tempts many homeowners to leave windows and doors open, screenless entries are inviting to pests such as flies.
  • Inspect the foundation for slight cracks that may be letting in cockroaches and other crawling insects. Even if you don’t live near a farm and probably won’t be exposed to a resistant-bacteria-carrying cockroach, you don’t want cockroaches in your home. Cockroaches carry allergens that can cause respiratory allergies and asthma.
  • Cook all meat, poultry, pork and other produce to recommended temperatures. The list of recommended cooking temperatures for produce is located on the “Is It Done Yet?” page of the USDA’ Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by UACES, Southern IPM Center. Southern IPM Center said: Study Shows Household Pests Linked to Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: