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The Do’s and Don’ts of Avoiding the Fire Ant

The Do’s and Don’ts of Avoiding the Fire Ant

In the 2015 movie Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) develops an armored suit that can shrink someone to the size of an ant and give that tiny creature superhuman strength. When the technology falls into the wrong hands, the bad guys figure an army of these ferocious “ants” can easily take over the world.

Well, in many parts of this country another army of ferocious ants—red imported fire ants—have taken over backyards and fields. (Did you see those floating masses in hurricane Harvey’s backwaters?) They’ve been spreading up from the Gulf Coast since they first arrived on a South American cargo ship in the 1930s. These days they occupy more than 310 million acres of land across the US. 

You’ll find their mound-like nests in sunny, open areas like playgrounds, parks, golf courses and lawns. (Always call a professional for their removal!) If you or your child stumbles across one, the ants swarm out and attack. It’s estimated they sting at least half the population in an affected area each year!

Soothe the sting
A welt from a sting appears within 24 hours and turns into a white pustule. Itching can last for days—corticosteroid ointments and oral antihistamines can help—but don’t break the blister. If you do, clean the area with soap and water to avoid a secondary reaction.

Most reactions don’t require a trip to the ER. Unfortunately, some people have an allergic response that triggers hives, difficulty breathing and even life-threatening anaphylaxis, which requires a shot of epinephrine.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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