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3-month-old Phoenix girl killed by ants during nap

Susan Carroll and Judi Villa

The Arizona Republic
May. 20, 2003 12:00 AM

A 3-month-old girl was killed by ants while she was napping in a crib at a baby-sitter's home Monday afternoon, Phoenix police said.

The caregiver, who has not been identified, put the infant down for a nap about 1:30 p.m., police Detective Tony Morales said.

When she went to check on the little girl a half-hour later, she was covered in ants and was in "severe respiratory distress," he said.

Autumn White had "hundreds of ant bites" on her legs and her throat was swollen, Assistant Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan said. She was not breathing when firefighters arrived at the home near 83rd Avenue and Mohave Street.

"A child that age probably just couldn't take the venom," Morales said.

Khan said the baby may have had an allergic reaction, with the poison from the ants causing her respiratory problems.

At least 40 deaths occur annually in the United States from reactions to insect stings. A severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, occurs in 0.5 to 5 percent of the country's population, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Children and senior citizens are more vulnerable.

Lower resistance

"Their resistance is less," Khan said. "They don't have the ability to recover like adults do."

Autumn was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center.

After the little girl died, firefighters again were dispatched to the home, where the baby-sitter was so distraught that she was taken to an emergency room for treatment.

The black ants in the baby-sitter's home were about one-eighth of an inch long and apparently crawled into the home between the carpeting and the wall, police said.

Neighbors in the new, upscale tract home development in southwest Phoenix said they started noticing more ants when daily temperatures started rising.

Mark Cedre, 29, said for months that the worst problem was the ants searching out "sugar in the pantry." But when he pulled up the carpet in his home this weekend to put in hardwood floors, Cedre found ants crawling along the foundation.

"I fumigated the whole thing," he said. "I was stomping all weekend, like a mariachi.

"My wife is nine months' pregnant; she's due any moment," Cedre added. "She's freaking out. She wants the whole neighborhood fumigated now."

Black ants live in colonies much like bees and forage widely in search of food. Most ants have well-developed jaws and can bite.

Khan said that while it's highly unusual for a person to die from ant bites, it's very possible for a person to have an allergic reaction which, if serious enough, could be fatal.

Shock symptoms

Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include swelling of the lips, throat, ears, eyelids, palms and soles; hives; dizziness; wheezing or shortness of breath; and a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Experts say that without medical treatment anaphylactic shock can lead to death in less than an hour.

"It's like a bee sting," Khan said. "Your respiratory system freezes up and you're not able to breathe. It's like a real bad asthma attack."

Neighbor Lorena Nieto, 26, held her 14-month-old son on her hip Monday just down the street from where Autumn died and whispered to her baby: "It's scary, huh?"