Sunday, January 13, 2013

Death by Ant Sting

I want to set a scene where the victim is staked in the desert and stung by ants. Can ants kill people?
Fire ants, which can be found in the desert Southwest (Oklahoma and Texas), can kill.
Small animals like kittens can be killed. So can humans. Here’s how:

These are the most aggressive ants on the planet. They’re distinguished by a penny-colored head and thorax, and a darker body. They have mandibles or “jaws” In contrast to other kinds of ants, fire ants use their mandibles to grip the skin; a stinger in the abdomen delivers a venom (solenopsin). The ant can rotate around the site of its attachment and keep stinging. A swarm of ants can deliver a large number of stings in a short period of time.

The sting is said to be “like fire,” hence the name of the ants. It results in raised red bumps. Treatment of the skin with bleach or ammonia in water, meat tenderizer, or even urine will denature the venom and relieve some of the pain.

Most people can handle multiple stings; individuals allergic to insect stings (bees, scorpions, etc) are susceptible to severe allergic reactions called anaphylaxis. Flushing, profuse sweating, and swelling—particularly of the face and airway—and difficulty breathing occur in short order, ranging from seconds up to an hour. It’s a medical emergency, and death occurs if treatment isn’t undertaken with epinephrine (as in an epi-pen) and antihistamines.

As far as setting, in areas without ground cover, the ants form mounds, which can be up to fifteen inches high. A desert wound be a likely location for a mound, or even an area with little ground cover like a lawn or rough grazing land.

These ants are aggressive—disturbing the mound will bring them swarming out. Staking a victim allergic to bees/wasps/ants in the vicinity of a mound would work. A victim not allergic could potentially die if he/she had an underlying medical condition—bad heart, severe asthma, elderly are possibilities. The killer needs to be wary of stings; boots and heavy clothing are recommended.

Questions? Comments?
Kelly has worked in the medical field for over twenty years, mainly at large medical centers. With experience in a variety of settings, chances are Kelly may have seen it.

Sometimes truth seems stranger than fiction in medicine, but accurate medicine in fiction is fabulous.
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  1. I once saw a baby covered in fireant bites who didn't survive. The bites turn into ugly pustules. National geographic had an article on fire ants and their mounds. The go down into the group over six feet and spread that many feet in all directions. Getting rid of them is a full time job. I live in Texas and I fight them every year.

    1. Hello, Ruby.
      Yes, they're a big problem, and dangerous. Definitely something to stay away from--if you see a mound, stay away. Vicious little insects.

  2. My first and last experiences with fire ants came in Florida. I have read reports of elderly people found dead in their garden areas as a result of stings.

    I like Montana where fire ants have not caught on.


    1. Very true, Sally.
      One encounter with these things can be the last. The colder states tend to be free of the things--they seem to like warmer climates.
      Thanks for commenting!

  3. We had them in South Carolina. I got them on my leg once. Yeow! I didn't realize they could kill or my kids would never have played in our yard.

  4. Kelly,

    I've been in the medical field forever also :). I've actually seen a woman die from one ant bite - not fire ant, just a run of the mill red ant. She had a severe allergy and went into anaphylaxis and died within minutes of the sting.

    I'm in West Texas and fire ants have only become a problem in this area within the last 10 years or so. In fact, they are so bad now, that the little horned toads we saw all over the place when I was a kids, are almost extinct.

    1. Yeah, an allergy can cause a fatal reaction in under a minute. Terrible.
      Sad about the toads. The shift in the biosphere when one species takes over. (I have friends in Texas--DFW area.)
      Thanks for reading. If you have any topics you'd like to see presented here, let me know! Always looking for interesting questions.
      Cheers, Kelly

  5. Always try to keep the safe distance from the nest. Do not disturb them. Getting rid of fire ant is very difficult. You can use boric acid for controlling. Vinegar and lemon juice is also good for controlling fire ant.