If you had an encounter with a fire ant before, you know that tens or hundreds of them tend to all sting at once and can sting repeatedly (ouch). Fire ant bites are painful and what’s worse is the burning or itching sensation from the sting can last up to an hour. If you suffer from multiple bites, you may feel as if your body is on fire.
Fire ants are particularly dangerous for those with allergies as these species possess strong venom and can hold on with their mandible while stinging. If their nest is disturbed, thousands of their ant army usually respond and attack by latching on and stinging.
About Fire Ants
The fire ant is an ‘exotic’ species of ant that first comes to surface in Brisbane in February 2001. They are considered to be a hazard because of the risk and effect on agriculture and the environment. However, these fire ants do not pose a significant poisoning risk.
Red Fire Ants are native to certain parts of America, particularly in the South, but they have become pests in many more countries. They eventually landed in the Caribbean, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, Hong Kong, China, and of course, Australia.
Fire ants are characterised as having a reddish-brown color with a darker abdomen. Their size ranges between 2mm to 6 mm, and their nests are usually the place where you often found a variety of ant sizes. Their nest often looks like a mound of dirt and most often located under or around rocks. They are also found on tree logs or in open areas such as parks, football fields, and backyards. Notice that their nests do not have visible entry or exit holes for extra protection.
Most fire ants can sting repeatedly and can cause two types of reactions:
- Fiery pain – Bites from these ant species can cause severe burning feels or ‘fiery’ pain, hence the name. It can also result in swelling, redness, and blisters. If the pain persists, you should consult with your GP.
- Anaphylaxis – The second reaction is the most serious one. Anaphylaxis is a rare serious allergy that when left untreated, can become life-threatening.
Fire Ant Bite Symptoms
After a string, the normal reaction of the skin is to have a small, itchy lump that typically gets better in an hour. If the skin did not get better in an hour, you may notice a small blister filled with fluid that looks like pus. After several hours (or days), small blisters or pustules may appear and form on the sting sites. These blisters tend to become itchy and can take up to 10 days to fully heal.
In extremely rare cases, fire ant bites can cause a severe fatal allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. Immediately seek medical advice if you have an allergy history of experience the following symptoms:
- rapid onset of flushing
- general hives
- swelling of the face, eyes, or throat
- chest pains
- nausea, dizziness
- excessive sweating
- breathing difficulties
- loss of consciousness (fainting)
What To Do After Being Biten by Fire Ants
- Apply a cold compress or immerse the bites in cold water to alleviate swelling and pain.
- Carefully wash the affected area with soap and clean water. Let the sting area soak in water for a few minutes to fully remove any remaining stingers or parts of the ant left in your skin.
- If the victim is anaphylactic and suffers from a severe allergic reaction, administer adrenaline using an EpiPen or auto-injector. Use 0.15 mg intramuscular injection for a child less than 5 years old and 0.3 mg intramuscular injection for children 5 years and above. For adults 0.5 to 2 mg of intramuscular injection is recommended.
- If the person is showing signs of severe allergies, call emergency services immediately.
- If the breathing stops while waiting for the emergency services, follow CPR and other life support procedures.
If the fire ants are still latching on you, pick them one by one using your hands. Brushing them off will only make them aggressive so you have to pick them by hands. Spraying them with water won’t also work as they can latch on with their jaws.
If you feel a single sting, immediately move away from your location where a fire ant mound or area is suspected. Remove the ants immediately to avoid multiple bites.
Note that normal fire ant bites can take up to 10 days to heal. However, if the blisters or pustules from the sting break, there is a high risk they can get infected. If the pain persists or blisters become infected, do not brush it off and see your doctor. Infected bites may require antibiotics to heal.