THE DANGERS OF FIRE ANTS
Fire ants may attack with little warning. After firmly grasping the skin with its jaws, the fire ant arches its back as it inserts its rear-end stinger into the flesh, injecting venom from the poison sac. It then pivots at the head and typically inflicts an average of seven to eight stings in a circular pattern. Fire ant venom is unique because of the high concentration of toxins, which are responsible for the burning pain characteristic of fire ant stings. Reactions Fire ant sting reactions range from localized itching and swelling with pustule formation to severe, lifethreatening anaphylaxis. Almost all people stung by fire ants develop an itchy, localized hive at the sting site which usually subsides within 30 to 60 minutes. This is followed by a small blister at the site of each sting within four hours. A sterile sore with pus forms in 8 to 24 hours; it then ruptures and scars in 48 to 72 hours. Treatment is aimed at preventing secondary bacterial infection, which may occur if the pustule is scratched or broken. Diabetics and others with circulatory disorders, including varicose veins and phlebitis, are at special risk for complications. Up to 50% of patients develop large local reactions at the site of fire ant stings. Swelling may last for several days and may be accompanied by itching, redness and pain.
Anaphylaxis is a generalized, systemic allergic reaction to fire ant stings that may be lifethreatening. It usually occurs in persons sensitized by a previous sting. It may be manifested by flushing, generalized hives, swelling of the face, eyes or throat, difficulty breathing, or loss of consciousness. A physician survey documented 32 deaths due to anaphylactic reactions to fire ant stings in patients 16 months to 65 years of age.
Treatment Local Reactions: • Elevate the extremity and apply ice or a cold compress to reduce swelling and relieve pain. • Clean the blisters with soap and water to prevent secondary infection. • Do not break the blister. • Topical steroid ointments and oral antihistamines may relieve the itching associated with these reactions. • Treatment with antihistamines and oral steroids may be useful in severe cases. • Since the swelling is due to allergy and not infection, antibiotics are usually not necessary. • Seek medical attention if the swelling progresses or if infection is suspected.