Red-Imported Fire Ant Stings Have Been Sustained By More Than Half Of All Residents In Some New Orleans Neighborhoods

The red imported fire ant was transported into the United States from its native South America during the 1930s, and today the hazardous and economically damaging invasive pests have spread to at least 13 states where they dominate all native ant species within a nearly 300 million acre area. These ants inflict stings to at least 5 million people in the southeast each year, and this figure only includes reported sting encounters. Of these 5 million sting victims, around 25,000 require medical intervention for their injuries. Red imported fire ants inject a necrotizing venom into the human bloodstream with their stings. Most sting victims can at least expect itchy and painful pustules to form on their skin, but many individuals are allergic to red imported fire ant venom, making stings life threatening to these individuals. It is not uncommon for red imported fire ants to attack, and sometimes kill, newborn deer and cattle.

While Formosan subterranean termites cause the greatest degree of destruction and are the most costly invasive insects in Louisiana, red imported fire ant activity costs billions of dollars per year. This is due to the tremendous damage the ants inflict to crops, livestock, wildlife, and electrical equipment, and the cost of public health programs concerning this ant species have been increasing steadily over the years.

After a medical doctor moved to New Olreans during the 1980s, he was shocked to learn that nearly half of the people in his neighborhood had sustained red imported fire ant stings. In response to these stings, many of the residents had developed wounds that left scars. Not long after the doctor, Richard deShazo, relocated to New Orleans, his two daughters sustained hundreds of red imported fire ant stings while playing in their backyard. These stings quickly resulted in the formation of painful lesions before eventually developing into pustules that took weeks to heal. Although this event occurred more than 30 years ago, red imported fire ants remain abundant along the Gulf Coast, as colonies cannot be permanently eradicated once established.

Have you ever found a red-imported fire ant nesting mound?

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