There is a waiting list of more than two years for the jack jumper venom immunotherapy clinic, held every Monday at Monash Medical Center in Clayton. Two hundred people are being treated and 170 are on the waiting list.
Patients as young as four years old travel there from across the state. For six to 12 months, they are injected monthly – and then every three months for up to five years – with small amounts of ant venom, until their bodies stop reacting.
Viola, of Williamstown, had his first treatment on Monday after being on the waiting list for three years.
Dr Sara Barnes, the Monash Health head of allergy and immunology, said some people who are allergic to the ant’s venom can die within minutes of a sting.
Museums Victoria invertebrates collection manager Simon Hinkley said about 3 per cent of jack jumper sting victims may be prone to a severe allergic reaction such as rashes, shortness of breath, asthma and low blood pressure.
Some patients, like Viola, carry an adrenaline injector device such as an Epipen or Anapen in case they are bitten.
Barnes said that even for those not allergic to jack jumpers, their bite can be one of the nastiest in the world. “It bites you first with its mandible then swings its bottom around with the stinger and stings you and it’s meant to be intensely painful,” she said.
While some patients had been stung while out in the bush, one was bitten by an ant hitting a ride on a surfboard, while another struck from garments brought in from a clothes line.
She said JackJumper is a great nickname for a basketball team because the insects, which are on average 1 centimetre long, can jump high and are very aggressive and quick.
Barnes hopes the name will raise the profile of the immunotherapy clinic, which opened six years ago.
She hopes that a satellite clinic can be set up in Ballarat so patients don’t have to travel to Clayton, in Melbourne’s south-east, at least for maintenance shots later in their therapy. The venom is not very stable and has to be stored at minus 80 degrees.
Even at Clayton, “we would love to have a zero wait list. Because they could die if they don’t get this treatment,” she said.
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