Deadly Fire Ant Attacks on the Rise

Days ago a 12-year-old boy from Texas died due to a severe allergic reaction to fire ant bites. The boy was attacked while warming up for the second half of a football game and eventually fell unconscious before being taken to the hospital. In July, 2013, a Georgia woman age 65 also passed away due to a severe allergic reaction to the same type of fire ant venom. After being bitten by the pool at her condo, she fell into anaphylactic shock and died in a hospital days later from complications.

Allergy to fire ants has become an increasing problem in the Southeast as these imported insects become more widespread.  Fire ants are actually native of South America, having spread to the Southeastern United States in the early to mid 1900s.  Currently fire ants can be found throughout the Southeastern United States up to the Mason Dixon line and in western states including New Mexico and  Arizona. These aggressive ant species have almost completely eradicated native ant species in the Southeast.

Fire ants are ubiquitous in both rural and city areas, with estimated current sting rate for fire ants in the low country area approximately 30% of the population per year!

How do fire ant attacks occur?


Fire ants bite with their jaws and while holding on with jaws, will repeatedly sting with abdominal stinger.  The sting area will usually develop a sterile pustule within 3-4 hours of sting but this pustule may not be visible immediately after sting.  Reactions can range from local painful reactions, particularly if multiple stings, to more severe systemic reactions including anaphylaxis.  Fire ant sting deaths have been reported in both humans and livestock in the Southeast.

If the patient develops a generalized anaphylactic reaction to fire ant with symptoms including hives, swelling, flushing, itching, vomiting, and respiratory difficulty, they should be evacuated immediately to an emergency room.  Epinephrine should be given immediately if available. Epinephrine is the only drug that can reverse a serious life-threatening reaction to fire ant stings.

How can someone prevent this from happening?

If the patient has allergies to fire ants confirmed by allergy testing, they can receive allergy extract immunotherapy – a therapy which can prevent future life-threatening reactions.  All patients with fire ant allergy should have an EpiPen or Auvi-Q automatic epinephrine injection device available when outdoors. A variety of insecticides have been used for fire ant eradication however all of these insecticides are only transiently effective and at present, we are certainly not winning the battle to control the spread of these dangerous insects.

via Post and Courier