Health Watch -- Taking the Sting Out of Fire Ants

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Just when the weather gets warm enough to go barefoot, out come the creatures that makes going barefoot painful.

The warm, moist conditions that make spring plants grow and that make going outside so pleasant also help fire ants flourish. These pesky creatures have spread throughout the southern part of the United States.

Fire ants get their name from the burning sensation their stings cause. That burning comes from a high concentration of toxins they inject when they sting you. A single fire ant can sting up to seven or eight times.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say most people who get stung by fire ants will develop an itchy bump that turns into a pustule within 12 to 24 hours. The sting may be painful, but it isn't dangerous. Just clean it with soap and water and avoid scratching it. The pustule can become infected if you scratch too much.

But for people who are allergic to the fire ants' venom, a bite can be life threatening. Someone having an allergic reaction may have flushed skin, hives, swelling of the face, eyes or throat, difficulty breathing or loss of consciousness. If a person has any of these symptoms, get medical help immediately. People who are allergic to fire ants and who live in fire ant country may benefit from allergy shots that will make them less sensitive to fire ant stings.

To avoid getting stung by fire ants, wear shoes when you're outdoors and avoid fire ant mounds.