What to Do If You Are Bitten by a Fire Ant

Fire ant

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Fire ants are very aggressive insects and whether you call it a bite or a sting, it hurts and itches.

In most cases, the sting will simply be irritating, generally with a burning sensation, and become itchy. But if you're stung by more than one fire ant at a time or are allergic to insect bites or stings, it can be much more serious, even resulting in illness or death. The following provides tips on protecting yourself from fire ants and what to do if you are stung.

How to Know If You've Been Bitten or Stung

  • When it stings, the fire ant injects venom into your skin that will cause the area to feel as though it has been burned.
  • The site of the sting will first appear as a red bump.
  • If it was an imported fire ant that stung you, within a day or two the bump will resemble a blister or white-headed pimple/pustule. This is a definite sign of a fire ant sting, as it is unique to imported fire ant venom.
  • The bite of the native fire ant will not turn into a white pustule; however, a severe reaction can result from the bite or sting of this ant as well.

Protect Yourself From Fire Ants

  • As soon as you see or feel a fire ant crawling onto you, quickly swipe it off and leave the area. Once a fire ant is firmly on you, it will "bite" with its jaws to attach itself to you. A fire ant will pivot its head to continue to bite and sting as long as it is on your skin. It will even continue to sting after all its venom is gone. Note: if you live in a fire ant area, it is advisable to swipe any ant off of you, whether you know it is a fire ant or not.
  • Stay away from ant mounds, and do not disturb or play with ants.
  • Before picking up things from the ground, inspect the area for ant mounds or other ant presence, and check the item itself for ants.
  • When working outdoors:
    • Check the area first for ant mounds or ants—including checking on plants and in water.
    • Wear shoes or boots, socks, and long pants. Tuck your pants down into your socks or boots.
    • If you are allergic to any insect bite or sting, carry an EpiPen (epinephrine injector) with you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also advises that you wear medical ID jewelry stating your allergy.
  • A study by the Mississippi Department of Health showed that the wearing of socks offered more effective protection than tested repellents. Results of the study were that:
    • Socks of any type reduced the number of fire ants that reached the skin and delayed the time required for ants to reach the skin above the sock level.
    • Fire ants were unable to sting through all socks tested.
    • When chemical repellent was applied, ants still stung human skin.
  • As a result, the study concluded:
    • Children living in fire ant-infested areas should wear socks or cotton tights that can also protect their lower legs.
    • Fire ants are not deterred from stinging by a wide variety of insect repellents and chemical substances.

If You Do Get Stung by a Fire Ant

Take the advice of the CDC:

  • Take an antihistamine and follow the package directions.
  • If you experience severe chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling, or slurred speech, seek medical attention immediately.