Contributors: Aisha Powell and Dr. Emran from Simple Health Radio

In this episode, Dr. Emran discusses health issues related to fire ants and why you need to be concerned. He begins with a case study of a patient and explains more about the recent epidemic.

“Jeannette” is a two-year-old healthy young girl. She was playing in her background when suddenly she began screaming and crying. Her parents, running to see what had happened, noticed her entire left foot was red. As she pointed to the red itchy area, her parents noticed there were multiple small insects on her foot.

The next day, after unsuccessfully trying to relieve the pain with home remedies, they brought her into the emergency department to see Dr.Emran. He noticed the swelling, discoloration, and blisters across the foot and leg. He knew the rash was caused by fire ants bites.

While fire ants were introduced to the US in 1940, these tiny insects are actually native to Brazil according to Oklahoma State University’s Entomology & Plant Pathology school. In the United States, 14 states are now seeing an epidemic of fire ants with thousands of people being affected each day.

The red fire ants are different than harmless black ants. The fire ants live in hills that peak in the summer months, especially after rainfall, near construction sites, and after the ground has shifted. The aggressive insects’ nest in hills that can house over 100,000 insects per foot. They live in populated areas like schools and playgrounds. Often times, the hills pop up overnight without warning.

The bite of a fire ant is different than other ants.

Specifically, the fangs from the fire ant:

   Cause a stinging due to their venomous poison

   Trigger a chemical reaction with redness, swelling, burning, and blisters

–   Leads to skin breakdown which can cause an allergic reaction, hives, and infection

For Jeannette, by the time she saw Dr. Emran, there was already a bacterial infection called cellulitis. Cellulitis is an infection that does not create pus, but the bacteria rapidly migrate just under the skin. This can cause the entire arm, leg, or body to develop serious complications.

Younger children have worse reactions due to their immature immune systems. Other may not be able to protect themselves. For example, if someone is intoxicated or has mental disorders such as dementia or autism, they lack certain. neurological functions. Their reflexes are too slow to avoid the painful situation by immediately jumping out of the way. The consequences could lead to severe allergic reactions which can be life-threatening. These people may develop hives, wheezing, drop in blood pressure, dizziness, and death.

In Texas, the fire ant infestation is increasing now affects farm animals and wildlife. Although only 14 states (mostly in the south) have this problem, this number will increase due to cross-contamination in cargo shipped around the world.

Currently, there is no skin test for people to see if they are allergic. However, there are other tests that can determine if you will have an adverse reaction to other similar insect bites. An Epi-Pen is a life-saving medication that should be kept at home or school if needed.

In these situations, antibiotics and steroids are you and your doctors best option. Jeannette saw rapid improvement after Dr. Emran administered the correct treatment. She had no long-term effects.

He advises soaking the bite site in Epsom salt or using unseasoned meat tenderizer on the area. The meat tenderizer actually breaks down the protein chemicals that cause the itchiness and redness. Oral Benadryl can help with some of the discomforts. Hydrocortisone cream can reduce some itching.

If these options fail, definitely make a trip to the emergency room, especially if you are known to have allergic reactions.                                                                                                                       

Summary –

     Red imported fire ants are becoming a big problem in certain states across America

     Side effects include itching, burning, blisters, redness, and bacterial infections

     If you think you’ve been bit, immediately soak the foot in Epsom salt, apply meat tenderizer to the area, and go to the emergency room

     Anthills tend to form during the summer and after rainfall

     Check populated areas, especially ones where children play in, and spray them down to destroy hills




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