Ants Attack Elderly Man in Hospital ICU

Ants attack elderly man in hospital intensive care unit.

ByKIM CAROLLO, ABC News Medical Unit
October 28, 2010, 12:27 PM

Oct. 29, 2010— -- As Cornelius Lewis lay in an intensive care unit at Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers, Fla., while recovering from pacemaker surgery, he was attacked by tiny invaders but not the bacterial or viral kind. Instead, his attackers were tiny ants.

"The day he came out of surgery, he looked great and the next morning, my dad said they moved his ICU room and didn't say why," said Lewis' daughter Maureen.

She said her father had hundreds of bites all over his body. He was very itchy and had a feeling something was wrong but couldn't do much to help himself.

"After his surgery, one of his arms was tied to his chest so he wouldn't move it and the other one he has rotator cuff issues with, but he felt something burning in his groin," said Maureen. She also said Lewis couldn't see the ants because he had multiple blankets on.

Karen Krieger, a spokeswoman for Lee Memorial Health System, confirmed last Monday's incident and said pavement ants were what attacked Lewis.

"That was confirmed by our professional service," she said.

But Lewis' daughter doesn't believe pavement ants were the culprits, since pavement ants do not bite or sting.

Jim Fredericks, director of technical services at the National Pest Management Association in Fairfax, Va. said while pavement ants are often found indoors, they are harmless pests.

"Pavement ants don't bite, but they do have a stinger, but they rarely sting," said Jim Fredericks, director of technical services at the National Pest Management Association in Fairfax, Va.

Lewis said the marks on her father definitely looked like fire ant stings. "They were fire ants," she said. "[The bites] were red, and they had pustules."

Entomologists also suspect the same. If so, the fact that they attacked a man indoors was a freak occurrence that will likely not have any serious health consequences, according to entomologists, who say there are usually no long-term health effects from fire ant stings. But people who are severely allergic to the venom could go into anaphylactic shock.

Fire Ants a Common Outdoor Pest

If fire ants did attack Lewis, experts say it's very unusual for them to be indoors.

"They will be inside if they've detected some food and are foraging for food," said Robert Plowes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin.

Fire ants will attack humans if they feel threatened.

"They respond to the smell of humans and the smell of breath," said Plowes. "If somebody blows on them, they get alarmed, and if they happen to be disturbned by movement or by vibration, they immediately react by generating an alarm pheromone."

Red Pustules Erupt

Another entomologist at the University of Texas at Austin, Larry Gilbert, wrote in a fact sheet that red pustules may appear the day after fire ants sting. They typically itch and burn.

"Inside, you can sweep them out and use an insecticide on them and get them out of the way," he said.

Getting rid of them outdoors, however, is a bigger challenge.

"You need to kill the queen. You can kill a lot of workers, but if you don't kill the queen, she will lay eggs and rebuild the numbers," said Plowes.

Entomologists say there are four species of fire ants found throughout the southeastern United States, including the entire state of Florida.

Hospital System Taking Stronger Measures

After the attack on Lewis, Krieger said patients in that unit were removed from their rooms and the rooms were sprayed and baited. The ants did not sting any other patients. She also said pest control measures have been stepped up.

"Our professional service is checking for activity every three days. Before the sightings, checking was done monthly."

She also said exterminators are spraying the rooftops and the exterior of all the hospitals in the health system more often.

"All additional treatment measures will continue until we go for 30 days without any calls about ants," she said.

Maureen Lewis said her father's bites are getting better. She said the pustules are gone and the bites still itch a little, but some hydrocortisone cream usually helps. She expects her father will be out of the hospital in a couple of weeks.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events