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The Danger of Fire Ants

Submitted by William M. Cunningham on May 27, 2011 – 9:09 am

The red fire ant is now spread throughout the southern United States. Infestations have been reported in California and New Mexico. It is believed they originally came to the United States in the 1930s through the port in my home city of Mobile, Alabama. Cargo ships unloaded goods infested with the ants. Fire ants are most likely found outdoors, but they will come inside if it necessary for them to survive. Fire ants and other ant species easily move through small cracks and crevices in foundations and around windows. They need to be controlled first outdoors. If not controlled outside, they may come inside.


There are three primary methods for you as a home owner to utilize to control fire ants: baiting, drenching, and broadcast. The use of fire ant baits can be an excellent method of controlling and slowly killing fire ant colonies. Baits work best when used outdoors in the spring and early summer. When the weather gets hot and dry, baits are generally ineffective for fire ant control. Baiting will kill existing colonies but will not always control other colonies from entering from adjacent area. It can also be a slower method of eradicating the colonies. Granular baits are the most popular baiting technique. Most hardware stores sell various brands and types of fire ant baits. You might ask them for the ones that work best in your area. As with any other product, be sure to follow the instructions. Early spring application is ideal because it controls recently developed queens before they leave on mating flights and establish new colonies. Killing the queens is the only way to eliminate fire ant colonies. Follow-up granular bait applications usually are necessary in mid-summer and in the fall.

Drenching a mound with a solution containing cypermethrin will destroy the colony faster than any other method. Again, you can find these products at your local hardware store. All that is needed for the job is a large bucket or watering can, a water source, and an insecticide containing the cypermethrin. Follow the instructions and then slowly drench the mound. Once the soil dries, you can allow people and animals back into the area.

Another method used is to broadcast an entire area with granules. This is somewhat similar to baiting but it does not involve spot treatment. Broadcasting granules ensures that all ants on the surface will contact your product. After applying your granules, apply water to the treated area. Water will help place the granules onto the surface of the soil where the ants will be exposed to them, pick them up and take them into the colony. Keep pets and children off of all treated areas until dry. And as always, read and follow all label instructions.

Of course, professional pest control companies can be hired to treat your yard on a regular basis.


Symptoms of fire ant stings may include redness, itchiness and pain around the site of the bites. Pus-filled blisters may last 3-10 days and scabs over the bite site may follow as well. Some people are allergic to the venom and may have difficulty breathing, a rapid heart rate and throat swelling.

Treating these stings at home, assuming there is not an allergic reaction, could include washing the area with soap and water- do not use alcohol. Sometimes ice wrapped in a washcloth on the bite area for 10 minutes and then off for 10 minutes will relieve the pain.

If the person stung has an allergic reaction, immediately seek medical help by calling 9-1-1 or poison control. There are bee sting kits that require a doctor’s prescription for those who know they are allergic. Be sure to know how to use the kit if you get one.


In a few instances, large numbers of ants have been found to nest in nursing homes and hospitals. There have been cases of stinging ants in the beds of patients causing severe injuries and death. When bed-bound patients cannot get out of the bed while the attack occurs, he or she may suffer hundreds of stings and potentially go into shock.

Facilities where vulnerable persons are located should train their staff members to look for indications of ants as well and not rely solely on a professional pest control operator. The staff should keep watch on a daily basis. It is recommended that the professional pest control operator do weekly inspections as these insects can rapidly appear and even re-infest an area. Rooms should be kept as clean as possible, and food trays, tables, and crumbs on the floor should be cleaned thoroughly. Those patients who are incapable of self- turning should be turned frequently and the staff trained to look for ants.

Day care centers also present a prime area for fire ants to attack. Children are curious and often are not aware of the danger of fire ants. Fire ants sting more children each year than all other insects combined. Fortunately, most children are not allergic to fire ant stings and eventually recover on their own. For some children, fire ant stings represent a real danger that may require emergency medical attention. Fire ant bites can cause painful blisters and even serious medical problems.

Nursing homes, hospitals and day cares – those places where the vulnerable are located- need to recognize this risk and take appropriate actions to assure the safety of their patients and wards. With appropriate interventions fire ants can be controlled. Consumers need to be aware and look for signs in their loved ones’ rooms or areas. Ask the facility if they are looking out for ants and other animals that could cause injury and who the pest control company is. There is no reason such attacks should occur if proper precautions are made in these areas where persons not able to protect themselves.

— William M. Cunningham is an attorney with Burns, Cunningham & Mackey in Mobile, Alabama.

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