The summer rains have brought with them fire ant mounds spouting up across Atlanta lawns. These invasive fire ants have become a big problem for Atlanta, causing harm and damage to people, plants, and animals.
What are fire ants?
To the naked eye, fire ants resemble ordinary ants. They are very small (1/8 to 1/4 inch long) and are reddish brown in color. Fire ants are very aggressive and inflict painful bites before they sting. Even a tiny bite can result in a painful sore that itches for days. The sting feels like a burning sensation, which is how fire ants came by their name.
Are they dangerous?
Fire ants are known to be extremely territorial and aggressively protect their queen. They become furious when disturbed, working together to attack any intruder. They rush out in large numbers to protect the colony, by biting and stinging aggressively and repeatedly.
Just a few fire ants can inflict numerous stings in a matter of seconds. Each ant firmly grasps the skin and bites their victim before stinging them and injecting them with toxic venom, which causes a strong burning fire-like sensation. Within a day or two, the sting site swells into a small, red, itchy pustule (a firm blister-like sore) that can cause a great deal of pain or irritation and is often associated with localized swelling. The fierce nature of fire ants combined with their unique ability to rapidly sting repeatedly makes them very dangerous.
Avoiding Fire Ants
Like many pests, fire ants are a fact of life in Atlanta. You can minimize your contact with them to reduce the risk of getting a bite.
- Being aware of your surroundings is the best way to stay safe. Watch your step. Regularly check for fire ant mounds in your yard.
- Wear protective clothing, particularly while gardening. Wear work gloves, shoes or boots and tuck pant legs into socks. Avoid wearing sandals or walking barefoot in the grass.
- If you have an allergy, keep an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) with you at all times. They can prevent anaphylactic shock after a sting.
Treating a Fire Ant Bite
People vary greatly in their reactions to fire ant venom. Those who are a little sensitive may see the sting area become slightly swollen. Common treatments for fire ant bites include:
- Use ice, cold compresses, painkiller sprays, or ointments such as over-the-counter antihistamine products to ease the burning and itching.
- Treat the pustule like any other small wound. Keep it clean and protected. Excessive scratching can cause the pustule to open and lead to a secondary infection.
Signs of an Allergic Reaction
Although the fire ant toxin is not deadly for most people, some people are extremely allergic. Watch for severe reactions if a person is stung more than a few times, is sick or has a compromised immune system (e.g., a heart condition, diabetes), is very young, or is an older adult. It is always a good idea to seek medical advice if you believe you have been stung or bitten by a fire ant.
Every year insect stings send more than 500,000 Americans to emergency rooms and more than 40 people die from insect sting anaphylaxis – a life-threatening, whole-body allergic reaction. Seek emergency medical attention immediately if the victim experiences any of the following symptoms as they could be signs of a severe allergic reaction:
- Chest pain
- Cramping and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Faintness or dizziness
- Hives or rashes
- Loss of consciousness
- Serious swelling
- Severe sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Slurred speech
- Tightness in chest or throat
If you see a fire ant mound on your property, call us today for a free inspection. Our professionally licensed pest control professionals can safely remove any infestation to keep you and your family safe.