written by: Jack O. Rella
• edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski
• updated: 11/29/2009
Fire ants have the most potent venom of all ant species and they are also the most aggressive. First aid for fire ant bites is a multi-faceted approach.
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Facts About Fire Ants
Fire ants are an imported pest from South America. They have since dominated their domain because of their highly aggressive nature, becoming the most troublesome and dangerous type of ant in the United States. Their aggressive nature is uncommon among ant species and it is due to this characteristic that fire ant bites account for the majority of reported cases.
The way in which fire ants attack their victim is unique. While most ants bite and then excrete formic acid onto the wound, the fire ant will bite just to grab hold of the skin of their prey and then inject formic acid through a stinger on their abdomen. This method of injecting the formic acid causes a much more effective and immediate dispersal of the venom into the body of their victim, which is what causes the fiery sting from which the fire ant gets their name.
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First Aid for Fire Ant Bites
The sting of a fire ant releases hemolytic venom that contains histamines. These histamines produce the pain and inflammation that is characteristic of a fire ant bite. The sting also produces a pus-filled bump that can contain bacteria. These pustules will cause the toxins to be spread over other areas of the skin if broken.
The best first aid for fire ant bites is to clean the areas immediately with soap and water, using gentle movements to avoid spreading the venom. Alcohol should be applied after cleaning the area and a cold compress can be applied to reduce swelling and inflammation. Again, it is important to gently treat the area to avoid further spreading of any venom that is present.
The area can also be treated with a daubing of calamine lotion, enzyme cleaner or a solution of bleach and water at a ratio of 1:1 to combat swelling and inflammation. Applying a topical solution, such as a cortisone spray or hydrocortisone cream or an oral dose of medication that contains antihistamines can also be helpful in treating fire ant bites.
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Addressing Allergic Reactions and Other Serious Side Effects
One of the most serious results of a fire ant sting is anaphylactic shock. This can affect those who have immune deficiencies and other biological conditions that cause allergic reactions to toxins such as formic acid. If a chronic allergic symptom is present, treatment by an allergy specialist may be required. In more severe reactions, immediate medical attention will be required, such as a visit to an emergency room. In any case, a fire ant attack should be taken seriously, as the potency of the venom can lead to further infection and inflammation in even a healthy individual.