Researchers believe they have a venom extract to counter dangerous allergic reactions to jack jumper ants, which are prevalent in Canberra and south-east Australia.
A leading immunologist, Raymond Mullins, said the federal government needed to fund venom immunotherapy for jack jumper ant stings like they do for bees and wasps.
Dr Mullins said the National Botanic Gardens in Canberra used to be crawling with jack jumper ants.
“A lot of the staff were stung so the nests have been poisoned up there,'' he said. ''Years ago I used to live in Garran and there was a nest opposite the shops.
“(The ant) likes dry sandy soil. It likes stringy bark trees for example. And they are quite aggressive. For example, if bees sting you they do it by accident if you tread on them.
“If you disturb a nest of jack jumper ants you will get dozens, if not hundreds, pouring out to defend the nest. I know because we used to go out and harvest ants when preparing the anti-venom.
‘’They are quite aggressive, they hurt like hell.’’
Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr Mullins points out that the evidence for venom immunotherapy (VIT) to protect against the effects of jack jumper ants stings is now at least equal to other insect species.
Dr Mullins said the ants were highly endemic in Tasmania. Purified venom for treatment is not commercially available, but is prepared at the Royal Hobart Hospital as a concentrate. Use requires prior approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
''Apart from stinging, the ants can cause dangerous allergic reactions and paying for treatment costs more than what you pay for a bee or wasp allergic reaction.''
Dr Mullins said while the ant sting immune therapy worked it was expensive to produce and cost about $3000 a year for a unit.
“It is manual, you can’t synthetically manufacture it in a test tube. The way it’s made is getting ants, digging up the nests, dissecting the venom sacks and purifying and standardising it to make sure it is sterile.''
Dr Mullins said an allergic reaction was one of the most common reasons people were admitted to hospital in Tasmania.
“In parts of Victoria about 3 per cent of the population have had bad stings as well, so depending on where you live, it depends on what exposure you may have.''
Honeybee and wasp VIT receive a government subsidy but there is no equivalent subsidy for jack jumper ant VIT outside Tasmania and full costs must be borne by either the hospital or the patient.
Researchers said that in ''the interest of equity'' it was time for federal and state governments to recognise the clinical need for this uniquely Australian problem.