Ant sting anaphylaxis mostly due to jack jumpers

22 July 2011

jack jumper ants

A study mapping cases of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) after ant stings has shown the problem is focused on Australia’s south-eastern states, with jack jumper ants the usual culprits.

The research took in location and trigger species data for more than 730 episodes of ant sting anaphylaxis, involving around 380 people, reported during 2006–07.

The stinging ant that caused the allergy was identified for almost 300 people. For most (89 per cent), it was a Myrmecia ant species – jack jumpers and bulldog ants – while for 11 per cent it was a green-head ant (Rhytidoponera metallica) (Med J Aust 2011; 195: 69-73).

Jack jumpers – Myrmecia pilosula – were involved in 176 cases, as the most common cause of anaphylaxis.

"The jack jumper ant (JJA) is a 'species complex' comprising 7 closely related species with almost identical [appearance]," the authors wrote.

"JJA reactions occurred in Tasmania, southern coastal WA, South Australia, Victoria and southern coastal and mountainous regions of NSW and the Australian Capital Territory."

Reactions to bulldog ants occurred in the same areas as JJA reactions, and also extended further inland and into northern parts of NSW and in WA as far north as Geraldton.

Green-head ant cases were clustered in northern coastal NSW and south-east Queensland.

JJA venom immunotherapy is funded by the Tasmanian state government and can be supplied to interstate hospitals though this was not subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the authors said.

"No venom extracts suitable for human use are available for other Australian ant species at this time," they added.

Last Reviewed: 19 July 2011
Reproduced with kind permission from Medical Observer.

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References

1. Brown SG, van Eeden P, Wiese MD, et al. Causes of ant sting anaphylaxis in Australia: the Australian Ant Venom Allergy Study. Med J Aust 2011; 195: 69-73. http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/195_02_180711/bro11385_fm.html (accessed Jul 2011).
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