Creepy, crawly, and dastardly, ants are little insects that seem to pop up everywhere, from picnics to kitchens to playgrounds. Not only are these tiny critters annoying, but they can also be what are known as indirect carriers of disease.
While ants may not be diseased themselves, they can carry germs on their bodies and spread illness through their travels. If you notice any ants in your home, it’s wise to get started on your pest control plan right away to limit your potential exposure to disease.
While these bacteria can affect healthy people, they mainly infect those with compromised immune systems. Serratia, in particular, is responsible for around 2% of all bloodstream infections, ranking it the 10th most common ICU bacteria for blood diseases.
Other bacteria like Citrobacter and Enterobacter may lead to urinary tract or respiratory infections. Proteus bacteria may cause inflammation upon entering the bloodstream, potentially leading to a highly dangerous condition known as sepsis.
Meanwhile, Staphylococcus and Yersinia are foodborne illnesses that may be contracted when ants infest a food supply (or crawl over your picnic lunch without you noticing).
Ants are infamous for colonizing and infesting. While an infestation may seem like just an annoyance that leads to cleaning out your pantry, it can be much more dangerous.
That’s because these insects can transmit germs to each other, whether they are part of the same colony or not. This means that diseases can spread far distances before anyone notices. An outbreak of Citrobacter a few towns away from you can be transmitted to a nearby colony and spread ant by ant until it reaches your backyard.
While not all diseases transmit this way, ants are a colony species that spend their time closely packed together with a high population. Much like a single child can bring a cold virus to an entire school, one ant may transform an entire colony.
Similarly, if ants find food that already has mold or other germs on it, they can carry these pathogens to untainted food. As a result, it’s important to regularly check your fridge and pantry to ensure that none of your food is expired or spoiled.
Two types of bacteria – Staphylococcus and Yersinia – are often the culprits behind foodborne illnesses. Additionally, ants have been known to transmit other foodborne diseases, such as E. coli, Shigella and Salmonella bacteria, across food sources.
You may recognize Staphylococcus from the illness it causes: a staph infection. This is often associated with rashes and lesions on the skin that can spread to deeper layers. These bacteria can quickly multiply on food surfaces and cause other health issues. The good news is that food poisoning from Staphylococcus is not life-threatening; in fact, it often lasts less than a day.
On the other hand, Yersinia is known to cause fever and abdominal pain, which can be severe enough to be confused with appendicitis. The symptoms typically last 1-3 weeks after infection and can even lead to hospitalization.
Believe it or not, ants can trigger asthma and other respiratory issues, sometimes including anaphylaxis. The pharaoh ant is a common urban pest that infests homes worldwide and has been found to be a major source of aeroallergens.
Instead of delivering ant stings or bites, the pharaoh ant contributes to irritants in the air that cause respiratory attacks.
Red or fire ants are also known to trigger short-term asthma in people who suffer ant bites or stings, whether they have a history of the disease or not. Also of concern for many homeowners are carpenter ants, which are notorious for causing respiratory irritation because of how they build their nests. They gnaw out space in wood support beams, decks, etc., creating sawdust that can cause allergic reactions.
If you notice any ants in your house, there is no need to panic. Follow a simple ant control plan to clear the space around the infestation and begin to take action. Of course, the preferable option may be to contact a professional pest control service to get rid of ants in your home once and for all.
With the current colony sent packing, you can focus on preventing a resurgence of ant life. Using white vinegar can wipe away the previous ants’ scent trails, and placing cloves or other herbs like peppermint around potential cracks where ants have come through can confuse and repel stragglers.
Technically, yes, ants can carry parasites. Yeasts and molds, which ants may carry, may be considered parasites since they are living creatures. When consumed by humans, they may cause common foodborne illnesses. However, none of the many other parasites that infect ants can spread to humans.
No existing evidence suggests that ants transmit Lyme disease. Instead, the illness comes most often from the blacklegged tick.
While it is never advisable to eat bugs you find outside, there is a very low chance of anyone getting sick from eating ants whole. Some cultures cook bugs to eat them, killing off any potential diseases or parasites that the insects may carry. In general, though, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry and avoid eating ants at all.
Now that you know the dangers that ants carry with them and how to eliminate any ant infestations, you are better prepared to have an outdoor picnic and protect your home. The likelihood of getting sick from interacting with ants is low for anyone with a strong immune system. Plus, there is a lot that you can do to shore up your home defenses against any potential intruding insects.
Don’t let any fear of ants keep you from enjoying a walk in the park. Just remember how to stay safe if you encounter any anthills.