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Jack Jumper Ant Allergy - Sonja's Story

KlebeSCommeIlFau horseSonja Klebe, who works in cancer research, moved into an Adelaide Hills property in 2005. She is a keen horse rider and rock climber and loves the great outdoors. Unfortunately she was stung three times by Jack Jumper ants within the first 18 months for moving to her new home. The first time she had a localised allergic reaction. The second time her arm swelled up. The third sting caused her breathing difficulty, and Sonja nearly passed out in the paddock. As she was alone, this was a frightening and potentially fatal experience.

Fortunately, she works at Flinders Medical Centre where Professor Bob Heddle has given talks about allergy to venom, so she was aware of the problem and sought help. She began a course of allergen immunotherapy. This involved the regular administration of gradually increasing doses of allergen extracts, usually over a period of years, the aim being tolerance to allergens with fewer or no symptoms.

"I used to always carry an EpiPen (adrenaline autoinjector) but I am quite active, ride horses and rock climb, so this can be difficult at times.  Since the Jack Jumper Ant immunotherapy, I have not had any systemic reactions. Avoiding outdoor activities has not been an option for me, and Jack Jumper Ant incidents have not been limited to the Hills. I have been stung in the car park at work, with an ant sitting on my car door handle, apparently just waiting for me!" Sonja has been on immunotherapy for 5 years and it has been effective for her in managing her allergy.

Allergies to venoms from stinging insects are one of the most common causes of severe allergic reactions in Australia, and cause more deaths than shark attacks, yet they are rarely reported. Symptoms include an all-over rash, swelling of tongue or throat, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting or a drop in blood pressure.

An AIFA grant of $10,000 was awarded in 2016 to a research project that will assess a test to determine whether immunotherapy for allergic reactions to Jack Jumper Ant stings is effective.

There is currently no reliable test to judge whether this treatment has worked apart from a live sting challenge, with all the inherent dangers involved.

The study has potential benefits for people with other allergies. Establishing the effectiveness of this test for allergen tolerance would allow it to be used in other allergic conditions like food and drug allergies, reducing the need for costly and potentially dangerous allergen challenges, which can only be performed in a few specialised centres. Read more about the project led by Dr Pravin Hissara's  team here

For more information on allergen immuntherapy

Content updated July 2020