If you have termites in your house they will not cause you physical harm, but they can do enough damage to make the home uninhabitable. Termites eat wooden structures from the inside out, so a wall or support beam may look solid on the outside but be riddled with termite tunnels on the inside. Although it may take years, the wooden structure can be irreparably damaged and can cause a building to partially or totally collapse, according to the book "Wood Frame House Construction."
Termites eat more than just wood. They also eat paper, books, paper money, insulation, drywall, cardboard, most types of landscaping mulch, swimming pool linings and anything made of cotton. Termites can also damage plant roots, trees and shrubs, especially if the trees or shrubs are injured or sick. Termites can also chew through electrical wires while tunneling for more digestible food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
One episode of the popular medical drama TV show "House, MD" featured a man allergic to termites. This led many people to wonder if they or their pets could potentially develop a deadly allergy to termites. But there is no evidence that people or pets can be allergic to termites. Termites do not transmit or carry diseases. They also do not bite or sting. But the presence of termites may indicate other problems with your home that could cause health issues for you and your family.
Termites are often attracted to homes that are humid and moist. Subterranean termite bodies will quickly dry out, so they stay underground or in areas of high humidity. One type of termite, the dampwood termite, prefers wood that has already begun to rot. If dampwood termites are present in a home, chances are high that the home has a leaky roof, damaged rain gutters or leaking pipes, according to Washington State University Cooperative Extension. Walls, basements or ceilings that constantly are wet grow mold which can trigger attacks in people with severe allergies or asthma.
Repairing damage from subterranean termites costs about $2 billion annually in the United States. This makes termites more destructive than fire and wind combined, according to the CDC. If you suspect termite damage in your home, you should call an expert to treat the problem as soon as possible.