Fire Ant Infestations A Problem In Southern Nursing Homes
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 30, 2004
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA--On August 20, 2000, Sheri Renee Herring, a resident of Albert P. Brewer Developmental Center in Mobile, Alabama was rushed to the hospital after, as one doctor described it, being bitten by fire ants "so many times that the bites were too numerous to count".
The 36-year-old Herring -- who has Rett syndrome and is not able to move her limbs, call for help, or even scream -- had been discovered in her bed covered from head to toe with the stinging, poisonous insects at about 5:30 a.m. Officials said she was okay when she was checked just a few hours earlier.
Department of Health investigators later found seven documented incidents of fire ant infestations in the three months prior to the attack on Herring. Staff members had reported finding fire ants on floors, walls, drinking fountains, and in residents' beds.
University of Mississippi researchers are now warning that non-native fire ants are becoming an increasing danger for residents of nursing homes and other institutions. During the past decade, scientists have documented at least six attacks by South American fire ants in nursing homes in Florida, Texas and Mississippi, along with Herring's attack in the neighboring Alabama institution.
At least 4 nursing home residents have died within a week of a fire ant attack, according to a story in Sunday's Associated Press.
"In a sense, this is a wake-up call for the future," said Robin Rockhold, a professor of toxicology and pharmacology at the University of Mississippi Medical School. "We need recognition of the potential for this problem."
Rockhold noted that the patients who were attacked by fire ants had physical or mental disabilities that kept them from moving away or shouting for help.
"Is seven attacks in 10 years a problem? Of course," said Jeff Smokler, spokesman for the American Health Care Association. "One attack is a problem. One is too many."
Experts say that the fast-moving insects -- which have been in the South since the 1930s -- are spreading to the north, east and west.
"Fire Ant Attacks Up in Nursing Homes" (Associated Press via South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
"Trouble in Alabama's Institutions: Albert P. Brewer Developmental Center" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)