Fire ants need professional mitigation measures

Doctor typing on computer

Hello, dear readers, and welcome back to our monthly letters column. With our inboxes still overflowing, we'll get right down to business.

-- We received a lot of letters in response to a column about fire ants and their painful bites. The mail came from all parts of the country, which shows how far these aggressive insects have spread. For managing pain from a sting, several readers swear by a first-aid device designed specifically for bug bites. It's widely available online and at big-box retail stores. "It's a suction cup that you use on each individual bite or sting to suck out the venom, reducing the effects," a reader said. "We use it on fire ant bites, and it works on mosquitoes, too!"

-- Also on the topic of fire ants, a reader from Vero Beach, Florida, was repeatedly swarmed and stung while helping her husband in their garden. "One time, I was on the concrete sidewalk, not even touching any dirt, and I had the same results," she wrote. "You need professional help to eradicate them. If you just get them to move out of your yard, you're sending them to your neighbors. Fire ants are swift, invasive and dangerous. You can be bitten before you ever see them." Her advice echoes that of several other readers, who say they needed professional intervention to make their yards safe for children, pets and themselves.

-- A reader who wants to follow the advice to take a brisk walk every day wonders what that entails. "I am 80 years old and walk twice a day for 20 to 30 minutes," they wrote. "The advice I hear almost always says to walk briskly. But how fast is brisk?" While brisk sounds as though it has to do with speed, the goal is actually a specific level of exertion. This can be evaluated by breath capacity. A brisk pace means you can manage the short sentences of a chat, but the sustained outflow of breath needed for singing would not be possible. When the pace needed for a brisk walk isn't possible due to physical limitations, carrying light weights, adding arm movements or choosing a path with a slight incline can increase intensity. It's wise to check with your health care provider about any changes you plan to make to your existing exercise routine.

-- A column that referenced a pill-based colonoscopy prep also got a lot of mail. "Is it true there's a colonoscopy prep pill?" a reader asked. "FDA approved?" The answer to both questions is yes. The FDA approved the first tablet for colonoscopy prep in November 2020. Known as SUTAB, it's an alternative for some people who can't use liquid colonoscopy prep solutions. It's not right for everyone, and it can have side effects. Your doctor can advise you if it may be an option.

Thank you, as always, for your letters. We love hearing your thoughts, are grateful for your kind words and are thrilled to know these columns engage you, and even help.

(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)

Take the Next Step

Learn more and talk to your primary care provider.