Leading immunologists have called on the Federal Government to consider funding for venom immunotherapy to protect people who are highly allergic to ant stings.
There were 20 Australian deaths attributed to insect stings between 1997 and 2005, with people in rural areas most at risk. The researchers say jack jumper ant venom immunotherapy should be provided at a subsidised rate, just as it is for bees and wasps.
Researchers Dr Raymond Mullin from the John James Medical Centre in Canberra and Professor Simon Brown, from the Centre for Clinical Research in Emergency Medicine, a centre at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth, have had a clinical focus published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Professor Brown said the rates of emergency department presentation with anaphylaxis for jack jumper ants were twice that for honeybees in some areas of south-eastern Australia and Tasmania. Jack jumper ants are very aggressive and in Tasmania and rural Victoria, 1-3% of the population are allergic to their venom.
Professor Brown has led a national research effort over the last 15 years to develop this treatment, which is based on venom extracted from the ants.
"Purified jack jumper ant venom for is not commercially available but it's prepared at the Royal Hobart Hospital as a concentrate," he said.
"Use requires prior approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration Special Access Scheme and the cost is anywhere between $1000 and $3000 per patient per year."
"At the moment honeybee and wasp venom immunotherapies receive government subsidies but there is no equivalent subsidy for ants venom immunotherapy," he said.
"This needs to change as a sting can cause severe anaphylaxis and it's much better for patients to have venom immunotherapy rather than carrying adrenaline alone."
Professor Brown said that venom immunotherapy for the jack jumper ant was just as safe and easily tolerated by patients as the therapy for patients allergic to honeybees.