Sat, Sep 04, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Fire ants a threat: officials

PESKY PROBLEM The threat brought by the arrival of South American fire ants has prompted a KMT legislator to urge the Cabinet to appoint a task force on the matter

By Cody Yiu  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH CNA

Legislators and agricultural officials at a press conference yesterday warned of attacks by red fire ants, which pose a threat to human health and property.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Yang Li-huan (楊麗環) of Taoyuan County said many residents in Taoyuan area have complained about being bitten by fire ants.

"It used to be that the ants only appeared on farms, but it was reported that Taoyuan residents have been attacked in their homes," Yang said.

"Once bitten, the wounds become itchy ... victims of ant attacks should should seek immediate medical treatment," Yang added.

The Council of Agriculture (COA) discovered the ants in February around farms, and has since been conducting research.

"Exterminating the ants requires cooperation between residents and the government to find their colonies and spread insecticides effectively," said Kuo Keh-chung (郭克忠), an official with the COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine.

"In Taoyuan, we believe the ant presence is growing, which makes it harder to wipe them out completely," Kuo said.

He also said that bites from fire ants should be treated with ice in order to stop itchiness and swelling.

"Scratching the bites may lead to infection. In more serious cases, such bites may result in shock or even death," Kuo said.

According to a study conducted by the department of entomology at National Taiwan University, the fire ants are native to South American countries such as Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The ants have spread to many other countries. In the US, fire ant colonies have caused crop damage in 12 states. Fire ants have caused billions of dollars in agricultural damage worldwide.

The ants were first discovered here last year in agricultural areas in Chiayi and Taoyuan counties.

"It is likely that the ants were brought into the country by travellers carrying agricultural products," Yang said.

"They do not attack people, but also damage furniture and electric cables. I urge the Cabinet to set up a special task force to counter this problem," Yang added.

This year, the COA allocated a NT$80 million budget to beautify the environment. Exterminating the ants are included in the budget.

Meanwhile, the COA also said yesterday that it has decided to formulate a project to effectively eradicate imported fire ants in three years.

Chiang Yi-nan (江益男), head of the COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, said that participants in the meeting decided to commission experts and scholars to set up a prevention consultation center and to ask related agencies to make an educational short film to raise awareness of the threat posed by the ants.

The Department of Health will also mobilize medical staff in major hospitals to study the techniques of treating people who have been stung by the ants, which carry a powerful venom that causes extreme pain and swelling.

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