Roaches and other bugs have no place in the hospital

Michael M. Warren, M.D.

Michael M. Warren, M.D.

It’s Your Health

Humans have been around for thousands of years. Trees, even longer. But in the beginning, there were roaches. And they will be here long after the last human vanishes.

Most people cringe, when they see a roach, feeling an immediate urge to crush this pesky creature. And everyone assumes that roaches are very dirty and carry dreadful diseases.

One thing is certain when it comes to roaches and all other bugs: They have no place in the hospital. But few things are more difficult to eliminate than bugs. Think about your hospital room: it is your bedroom, dining room, bathroom and family room miniature house all crammed into a few square feet.

There’s ongoing traffic bringing food, plants, flowers and other materials that are all havens for bugs.

A patient’s father complained to me once (after a heavy rain and during “ant” season) that there were ants in his daughter’s hospital room. He wanted to know if there would be bugs in the operating room crawling on the scalpels, carrying dirt and bacteria. Of course, I assured the gentleman that this was most unlikely and scurried off to check out the operating room.

I like to think that I’ve practiced medicine in the “modern era,” but I do remember flies and other bugs entering operating rooms through open windows. That this was ever allowed to happen seems a bit ludicrous today, when such conditions are totally unacceptable. Have fly swatter, will travel?

Hospitals spend large amounts of money to control insects, rodents and other pests.

It’s virtually impossible to eliminate all insects, even in hospitals. But if you do find bugs, you should stay calm and report the incident.

Express concern, and don’t ignore the problem. Hospitals don’t want bugs any more than you do. Expect reasonably prompt attention to the matter. A pest control professional should be called promptly, and if they are not available in a reasonable amount of time, you can request a room change.

Don’t accept superficial or curt answers, as though the bugs were an insignificant problem; and don’t accept reluctance or refusal to respond.

Hospitals should be responsible for maintaining proper bug extermination procedures, mainly because of the potential health problem, but also because they generally want to promote the image those hospitals are sterile, clean places.
Hospitals realize that you have choices. Few things will influence your choice of hospital more than a desire to avoid a dirty, insect infested facility, even if it does have the best staff and the most sophisticated equipment. Hospitals work constantly to find ways to “get the bugs out;” lend a hand; report the pesky creatures if you see them; the staff doesn’t want them there any more than you do.

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith professor of surgery at University of Texas Medical Branch Division of Urology. Write him at

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