Fire ants are a growing problem in the southern United States. Avoid them whenever you can and take basic protective measures when going outside, such as wearing shoes and socks. Be on the lookout for a severe allergic reaction in anyone who has been stung, and be prepared to get emergency medical help if needed.
If you are the victim of fire ants, chances are you’ll know immediately. The ants usually attack in swarms, racing up vertical surfaces (such as your leg) when their nests are disturbed. They are aggressive and determined. Each fire ant can sting several times.
To identify fire ant stings, look for groups of swollen red spots that develop a blister on the top. Stings hurt, itch, and can last up to a week. Some people have a dangerous allergic reaction to stings and will need to seek immediate medical help.
Treat mild sting reactions by washing the affected area with soap and water and covering with a bandage. Applying ice or a cold compress can reduce the pain. Topical treatments include over-the-counter steroid creams to reduce pain and itch. Bites should go away in about a week. Scratching can cause the bites to become infected, in which case they may last longer.
Anyone can develop an allergy to fire ant stings at any time, although people who’ve been stung before are at higher risk of doing so. A dangerous allergic reaction can be fatal. Signs of a dangerous allergic reaction include sudden difficulty with breathing or swallowing, as well as nausea and/or dizziness. Symptoms develop quickly after exposure. It’s critical to get emergency medical treatment at once if you see signs of an allergic reaction to a fire ant sting.
The best way to avoid fire ant stings is to keep away from fire ants. If you see a nest, resist the temptation to disturb it. Wear shoes and socks when working and playing outside. If you are attacked by fire ants, move away from the nest and brush the ants off with a cloth or while wearing gloves, so they can’t sting your hands.
What Can Be Done?
Fire ant colonies are notoriously hard to destroy. There are some poisonous baits which may wipe out fire ants with regular application. The most common is piretherine, a pesticide derived from plants. The best time to use baits against fire ants is during the fall, when the ants are less active. Professional pest control companies can also treat fire ants.