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Red fire ants confirmed in Hong Kong
Updated: 2005-01-30 11:31

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation received Saturday a verbal reply from experts in the Chinese mainland confirming that the specimen of ants that had been submitted for their examination was Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA).

According to the US Department of Agriculture, red fire ants (solenopsis invicta) bite repeatedly when their nests are disturbed.

Repeated stings from a swarm could lead to chest pains, nausea, shock or, in extremely rare cases, coma or death. Taiwan reported its first death from red fire ants last October.

Hong Kong discovered its first suspected fire ant mounds in Wetland Park in Tin Shui Wai Wednesday. Since then, more and more suspected mounds have been reported.

In Saturday's operation, the West Bank of Kowloon Cultural District area and a former bus terminal in Tai Kok Tsui became the latest habitats of the fire ants, making the total number of mounds found so far in various sites amounting to 187.

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said Friday the fire ants might settle in Hong Kong permanently.

"I cannot rule out this possibility ... they might have been in Hong Kong for some time," he said.

An interdepartmental taskforce led by the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau has been set up to co-ordinate patrol efforts by various departments which will report findings to the agriculture department.

More than 800 estate management staff of the Hong Kong Housing Department have been mobilized to step up daily inspection of housing estates to prevent possible spread of red fire ants. Patrol teams will also watch for any fire ant traces and promptly deal with any found.

However, Chow urged the public not to overreact, saying the ants were just insects, not a virus such as SARS.

"Since there are very few agricultural activities in Hong Kong, it would not be too difficult for us to control the situation should we find the ants in Hong Kong," Chow said.

He said it is quite safe to enjoy the Chinese New Year in the traditional ways, although people need to take some precautions when buying flowers and plants from the market.

To ensure all pot plants being sent to local farms and markets are free from the pests, all imported plants are inspected and disinfected at a special treatment area in Ta Kwu Ling.

Speaking on a radio talk shows Saturday, Deputy Director of Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Lau Sin-pang said the inspections on pot plants imported from the mainland will raise consumer confidence in buying them.

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