Dubia Roach Allergies: Causes and Solutions
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While roaches are a fairly common thing to be allergic to (and children with asthma are most at risk), dubia roach breeders and people maintaining a colony to feed their pets run into two major problems:
- Working directly with a colony exposes you to high levels of roach waste, often in the form of fine dust that is easily inhaled and dispursed.
- Roach allergies can develop over time, and are more likely to develop with increased exposure to roaches.
In order to understand how these allergic reactions start, we have to look at the basis of all allergic reactions: active immunity.
Your body has two basic immune defenses: passive immunity and active immunity. Passive immunity includes barriers like your skin, which simply block particles from entering your body. Active immunity, on the other hand, changes the receptors carried by immune cells that allow them to capture and kill invading microbes.
This essentially works through a complex system of processes within immune cells that recognize an invading protein, develop antibodies to this protein, and attach these antibodies to the white blood cells that seek out and kill pathogens.
Cockroaches shed a large number of cells and proteins as they grow, eat, and wrestle for space within a colony. This leaves proteins and partial molecules all over the colony. When humidity is low, these particles tend to form fine dust. This dust can carry the particles onto your skin and into your respiratory system when it is disturbed.
As these molecules work their way into your system, the proteins may trigger an antibody response. The more you are exposed, the more your immune system creates cells specifically to fight these invading molecules. Over time, this reaction grows bigger and bigger until it can cause serious respiratory and breathing issues, skin rashes, and other symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Never touched a roach and still allergic?
This is more common than you would think. Part of your active immunity is inherited through your DNA. Just like some kids are allergic to peanuts from birth, people can be allergic to roaches from birth. It all depends on what antibodies your body produces based on your DNA, and what antibodies you inherit from your mother.
Sometimes, one of these sources will already contain antibodies specific to roach waste. In people who already have an active immune response to roaches, you may see a reaction if you simply let a roach crawl on your skin.
Unless you have a severe allergic reaction to roaches (trouble breathing, severe rash, or anything other than minor discomfort), there are still several ways you can protect yourself from an allergic reaction.
When researchers study dangerous pathogens, they must take serious precautions to avoid getting infected with the pathogen. There is a specific process for how this Personal Protective Equipment should be put on, which virtually eliminates the chance of small particles getting on your skin or in your respiratory tract.
First, you will want to don a pair of latex or nitrile (if you are allergic to latex) gloves. This first set of gloves will protect you as you put on your other protective gear, which may already have some roach allergens on it.
#2 Tyvec Suit
A Tyvec suit, or any other brand of Hazmat protection suit, blocks all substances from getting on your skin. You will want a suit that fully covers your arms, legs, feet, chest, and head. People who have to wear these suits regularly typically buy them a size or two too big. This will keep you more comfortable as you do your work.
#3 Face Mask (Or Respirator and Safety Googles)
While a simple surgical mask and safety goggles can do the trick, it is advised that dubia roach breeders invest in a serious face mask and respirator combination. Many of these masks cover your entire face, sealing your skin off from contact with any roach dust you may stir up. You can also get masks with replaceable cartridges, making it able to reuse the mask for years.
#4 Gloves… Again
The second pair of gloves serves 2 purposes: First, it gives you a second line of defense, in case your first set of gloves rips or tears. Second, it gives you a fresh pair of gloves for the disinfecting process.
After you put this pair of gloves on, you are ready to work with your roaches! Your body should be completely covered in protection, so you can work with your colony without having to awkwardly avoid touching things.
#5 Reverse the Process to Disinfect
To reuse your Tyvec suit and face mask or goggles, it is important to wash them off after you are finished with your roaches. This will ensure that when you are putting them on next time you don’t accidentally touch some residual roach dust. For this process, you can use a strong solution (>70%) of alcohol, or commercial Tyvec disinfectant products, in a spray bottle.
Start by removing your first layer of gloves. Discard these gloves and with them the majority of roach allergens that you touched. This also lets you touch your spray bottle with a new set of gloves, ensuring that you don’t transfer allergens to the bottle.
Next, use the spray bottle to completely soak your Tyvec soak, washing away potential allergens. You may want to do this process in a shallow basin, in order to catch the draining disinfectant. Once you have covered your whole suit, remove your facemask or goggles and cover with disinfectant. You can remove these items and your suit, hanging them over the drip pan to dry. You will now be down to only your first pair of gloves, which can be discarded.
This process is used by a professional research organization to handle molecules far more dangerous than roach waste, so it should be sufficient for most low to moderate allergies. However, if your allergy causes severe health concerns, you should likely avoid all contact with roaches.
Beyond this, there are a few more things you can tweak within your roach colony to reduce the amount of roach waste
Inrease the Humidity
Dubia roach allergies, especially within the respiratory system, seem to come mainly from small dust particles. One effective way to decrease the amount of dust is to increase the humidity of the roach habitat. Some breeders suggest that humidity levels above (40%) are sufficient to decrease the amount of dust.
Roaches are dirty, but they don’t have to be. Scheduling quick, regular cleanings of your roach colony will save you a lot of headaches in the long run. Old food, feces, exoskeletons, and any accumulating dust should be discarded on a regular basis - every week should suffice. If these materials are left in the colony, they will contribute to more dust and potential allergens.
If you have a spare room (or closet, or shed), you can create an isolated space for your roaches. If you put your PPE station directly outside this room or space, you will further isolate the allergens to a single space. If you seal the vents and exits, you minimize the chance of roaches escaping, even if they escape their primary colony bin.
Don’t forget to think about ventilation - if the air intake for your A/C or heater is in your “isolation” room, there is a good chance the allergens will make it through a filter and into the rest of your house.
Try a Different Species
Sometimes, an allergy can be species-specific. You may be allergic to a specific protein that only Dubia roaches express at high levels. Other species, such as Discoid roaches, offer a very similar nutrient profile and you may find they are easier to keep clean. (Although this is highly debated online.) If you are allergic to all roaches, consider Black Soldier Flies, Crickets, or Superworms.
However, you should still wear Personal Protective Equipment when handling any roach colony, because many people have developed allergies after repeated exposure.