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A 68-year-old Sun City Hilton Head woman died Sunday from complications related to a fire-ant sting she received while working in her garden a day earlier. '
Janet Wallace Roedl Shiansky had a severe allergic reaction to the sting and was rushed to Coastal Carolina Medical Center in Hardeeville, said her daughter, Ilene Shiansky.'
Janet Shiansky was given epinephrine and immediately put on a ventilator before being transferred later that day to Hilton Head Regional Medical Center. She developed a high fever and swelling in her brain and died Sunday afternoon.'
"A teeny tiny fire ant took down my mom, and she was a really strong lady," Ilene Shiansky said. "It's hard to believe. It's really hard to take. We're still in disbelief, but we're hanging in there."'
The fire-ant sting placed her into anaphylactic shock, a severe condition that caused her airways to constrict, her daughter said.'
Those suffering from a severe allergic reaction can go into anaphylactic shock and lose consciousness within minutes of being stung, said Dr. David Amrol, an allergist and assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. '
The condition could be marked by three primary symptoms: swelling of the throat, tightness in the chest and a severe loss of blood pressure.'
The most severe cases can result in death.'
Amrol said deaths related to insect bites are very rare. He estimated only about 50 people die each year in the U.S. due to allergic reactions from insect stings.'
Most people have a mild reaction to fire-ant stings -- a burning feeling accompanied with a small red bump with a white head that can take days to go away. Sometimes this includes minor swelling near the sting.'
Others have a more severe reaction, including shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and swelling in a part of the body away from the bite. Amrol estimates that only about 1 percent of the population has this type of systemic allergic reaction.'
"When people really need to worry is when you're stung one place and have a reaction at another site," Amrol said. "If you're having trouble breathing, or if you're seeing swelling anywhere else in the body, you need an epinephrine shot immediately and need to get to the hospital."'
People with known severe allergies should always carry an EpiPen, a portable epinephrine shot available by prescription only.'
Janet Shiansky had been bitten by fire ants before, but she never had a reaction nearly as severe as on Saturday, her daughter said.'
"Some people can be sensitized after one bite, some can be stung 1,000 times and never have a problem," Amrol said.'
Allergic reactions are common from stings from other insects, including wasps, honey bees, hornets and yellow jackets. But fire ants are a growing problem in the Southeast, Amrol said.'
"We're seeing more and more people having anaphylaxis to fire ants than other species," he said.'
Fire ants are a dominant species in the southeastern U.S., said David Oi, a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Gainesville, Fla.'
The ants are about a quarter-inch in length and deep amber in color. They prefer areas that get plenty of sunlight.'
They're particularly aggressive and are known to attack en masse anything that disturbs their nests. The ants swarm quickly and attack by latching on with their jaw and rotating their backside to inject venom into a victim's flesh, Oi said.'
"They're so aggressive, and that's why they're such a problem," Oi said.'
Following her mother's death, Ilene Shiansky is urging others to get educated about their allergies so they can be prepared in case of a severe allergic reaction.'
"Call your doctor. Get tested. Be prepared. I have to find some kind of purpose in my life after this happened to my mother. It could happen to anyone," Ilene Shiansky said.'
A memorial service for Janet Shiansky will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Saul's Funeral Home in Bluffton.