In areas where imported fire ants are found there is always a risk of fire ants entering buildings. With health-care facilities, there is the added risk of fire ants stinging patients who are unable to move or alert others that they need help. Such occurrences can cause serious injury or death for those who are unable to defend themselves and trauma for their families. They also bring into question what the pest management provider is doing to prevent such tragic situations. Ten such attacks were reported between 1989 and 1999 (deShazo et al 1999). Although incidents like this may be rare, the effects can be devastating for all involved.
So what can pest management professionals do to limit the possibility of imported fire ants entering and causing harm in a medical facility?
How Ants Enter Buildings.
Any fire ants in proximity to a building have the potential to enter and cause harm. Often fire ants are pushed inside by extremely wet or dry conditions. Fire ants also will find and utilize food debris spilled in buildings. The most likely entry points are weep holes, cracks around doorways and windows, plumbing penetrations, concrete expansion joints or cracks in the slab. Fire ant colonies also can be located on flat roofs where soil and moisture are present. An entire fire ant colony can relocate next to a building in a short period of time. This is especially concerning if this happens after business hours, on a weekend or on a holiday.
Staff at these facilities must understand that we have to be notified about ant activity as soon as it is detected. This allows us to take action before tragedy occurs. These facilities should develop an “ant policy,” which defines what actions will be taken when ants are seen. Policies should include removing patients from the area and immediately notifying their pest control provider about ant problems. Don’t rely on the facility for identification. A pest professional should be on site as soon as possible to take appropriate actions. Have a logbook on site for staff to record pest sightings. Make sure to indicate that action has been taken on all items listed in the logbook.
Treatment Beyond the Perimeter.
Fire ant treatment should be extended beyond just the immediate perimeter of the building. The Mississippi Department of Health states that 25 to 50 feet around the building is a critical zone requiring regular inspection for ant activity. Include these treatments in proposals for new health-care accounts. On current health-care accounts without this service, offer additional fire ant treatments to the extended perimeter and lawn. The larger the buffer zone created around the building, the better. If additional service is declined, document this in writing along with the names of individuals with whom the additional service was discussed.
In an ideal world the entire lawn would be treated. If such a service is declined, even a treated zone around the perimeter of a large building can help. Such services are more economical than you might expect, especially considering the potentially harmful outcome. In some circumstances, it may be worth treating at your own cost to protect your company and reputation. Such treatments can be used as a sales opportunity. Let management at the facility know you are providing a treatment for fire ants around the building so they can see how it can reduce their risk. The results are convincing and possibly may lead to paid treatments in the future.
Choose the right products.
There are many ideal product options for fire ant control, depending on the situation. As always, follow the label and directions, making sure the product can be used in the area to be treated. Products that kill on contact should be used if ants are found in or near the facility. Immediate control is needed and there is too much risk to use a slow-acting product under these circumstances.
Properly labeled, faster-acting baits may be useful indoors when ants are foraging into the building through expansion joints or cracks in the slab. When it is not possible to directly treat the fire ant colony or their entry point into the building, foraging ants can be used to take bait to unreachable voids. Although immediate control is preferred, this type of treatment may be the only option in some cases. Ant activity should be closely monitored during baiting and at-risk patients kept out of the area.
The immediate perimeter can be treated with a residual liquid on scheduled service visits. The perimeter should be inspected even if treatment is not planned. The lawn and extended perimeter can be treated with baits or broadcast soil treatments. Make sure fire ants in any high-traffic areas and near buildings are controlled immediately since lawn treatments may take a few weeks to become effective. Applications in the spring or early summer are best for long-term control.
Document What Was Done.
Documentation of what was seen and what areas were treated is critical. Show that additional services have been offered to extend the treatment around the facility. Document the specific areas that were treated and what actions were taken. Also, document any requests made of the facility in regards to moving patients or correcting sanitation issues that may be increasing ant activity.
When litigation occurs, we will be held to standards that are described in extension and research articles. Be familiar with the recommended controls and make sure your programs meet the standards suggested by experts in our industry. Application methods and products available are constantly changing. We need to be aware of the best tools and practices available and demonstrate that we are doing everything that would normally and reasonably be done to provide protection from imported fire ants at a medical building. Our efforts can have a real impact on the health and well-being of the most vulnerable individuals at these facilities.
Fire Ant Attacks on Residents in Health-Care Facilities: A Report of Two Cases, Richard D. deShazo, M.D.; David F. Williams, Ph.D.; and Edward S. Moak, M.D. 21 September 1999, Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 131, Number 6.
The author is a member of the Copesan Technical Committee and has 13 years experience in the pest management industry. He holds a Ph.D. in Entomology and currently serves as technical and training manager of Bill Clark Pest Control in Beaumont, Texas.