NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- The summer is almost here and that means plenty of outdoor activities. It also means some pesky creatures start to move in.
Red Imported Fire Ants came to Hampton Roads several years and they're now so out of control now that the area is deemed a quarantine zone. That means state officials are just trying to keep them from moving to other parts of the state.
"They exist here, they're living here and thriving here," says Andrea Davis with the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
The Fire Ants, which were first detected in Virginia in 1989, thrive in temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees.
"Unfortunately that lends itself to our sports fields, some of our open playgrounds areas, even yards that don't have a lot of shade," notes Davis.
"Fire ant mounds are typically anywhere from about eight to ten inches up to about two-feet high and wide," she explains.
Though small, the ants pack big punch, often through a bit, but the most painful attack comes from their stingers, which they use to repeatedly jab their victims. Injuries can range from minor irritation to, in some rare cases, death.
"When they come out of the mound, they literally come out in the thousands to attack," Davis says.
"It's not common, but it is possible for people to have an anaphylactic response, which is a severe allergic reaction to a sting," said Dr. Marilyn Van Horn, who practices family medicine at Hague Medical Associates.
If you have a fire ant bite or sting, Dr. Van Horn suggests applying a cool rag to stop the burn; however, the itchiness will remain for up to a week.
Last year, there were 88 deaths associated with a fire ant attacks in the United States.
Dr. Van Horn says children are most at risk because they're often outside playing in the warm weather.
An attack can also prove to be dangerous for people who are immobile or babies because they can't get away fast enough.
As for treating fire ants where you live or play, Davis advises getting a professional to do the treatments because any disturbance to a mound may cause the ants to split apart and create new, separate mounds across your yard.
State officials have tried many different methods of getting rid of Red Imported Fire Ants, but nothing has worked. They're now looking at using biological controls such as a predator or parasite.
So far, the Virginia Fire Ant quarantine is in the counties of James City and York, and the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg.
In North Carolina, portions or entire areas in more than 70 of that state's 100 counties are considered infested with Fire Ants, including the counties of Camden, Currituck, Gates, Hertford and Northampton, which border Hampton Roads.
If you think you've spotted a Fire Ant infestation, contact your local extension office or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 804.786.3515. Find your local office by clicking here.
States With Fire Ants
Since arriving in Mobile, AL from South America, they've spread to all or parts of Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.