MARCH 29, 2004 - Posted at 7:28 a.m. CDT
NEW ORLEANS, LA - A new worry for nursing home residents...the South American fire ant.
University of Mississippi researchers have documented at least six attacks in nursing homes and as many other attacks in private homes, apartments and hotels over the last decade. Arkansas is among the states where the pest now flourishes.
The study documented attacks in other nursing homes, two each in Texas, Florida and Mississippi, as well as in a state institution in Alabama. At least four nursing home residents have died after attacks due to complications because they are already in fragile health.
Professor Robin Rockhold calls this "a wake-up call for the future" and the potential problem it poses.
Fire ants are about one-eighth to one-quarter inch long, but inflict a painful sting far out of proportion to their size. Large numbers will swarm onto the body and then sting almost simultaneously.
Nursing home patients who were attacked by the ants had physical or mental ailments that kept them from moving away or shouting for help.