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QUESTION: We ran into our first fire ants recently. We moved south from the Northeast, where we had never heard of them. The sting is really hot, and I guess that's where they get the name. Can't something be done about these little monsters? Can stings be dangerous? - Mrs. B. C. (and family)

ANSWER: The fire ant is a South American import, arriving here in the '30s aboard ships. They quickly spread throughout the South, gradually creeping northward, mating with native ant populations along the way.The gruesome details of its modus operandi includes the securing of its head to the skin with strong jaws. From this hold, it rotates, repeatedly jabbing the skin with its abdominal stinger. The result is a burning and a pus-filled blister that forms in about 24 hours. The whole incident can last from three to 10 days.

Fire ants are mostly a nuisance, but a few victims may develop a serious skin reaction necessitating emergency attention. Otherwise, laving with soap and water suffices to ease the sting. Irritated skin should be covered, especially in children, to avoid scratching and infection. Skin creams with numbing agents sometimes help, and some may require antihistamines by mouth to quell the itch.

I don't know where you live. Many local communities have launched campaigns to rid their areas of fire ants, some with limited success. Usually, the ant resumes a prodigious repopulation.

QUESTION: Please comment on silent heart attack. Does it occur while the person is sleeping or during waking hours? Can the damaged heart be healed? - A.P.C.

ANSWER: A silent heart attack could use a better name - perhaps "painless heart attack." It is an attack that doesn't cause pain.

It now appears that this kind of heart attack is much more common than once thought, and it does tell us that pain is not always a bad thing. Without the pain alarm, we might walk around carrying a silent time bomb.

A silent attack can occur any time, day or night, as can any other kind of heart attack. The damage done does heal over, but the precipitating local blood supply deficiency remains. The resulting dead heart tissue is replaced by scarring, a process that takes a few months to take place after the attack. You may be interested in a related subject - angina pectoris. I am sending that report. Other readers may order by writing: Dr. Donohue/No.1, Box 830, Gibbstown, NJ 08027-9909, enclosing a long, stamped (52 cents), self-addressed envelope and $2.

QUESTION: Can you tell me precisely what the procedure is in diagnosing Parkinson's disease? I wonder specifically if there is a laboratory test for it. - R.V.D.

ANSWER: The procedure for diagnosing Parkinson's disease involves the physical examination, firsthand observation of the patient. Parkinson's patients betray certain bodily movements, including a slowness of movement in general. The limbs have a certain rigidity; the facial features, an immobility. The walk is shuffling.

But the key symptom of Parkinson's is the tremor. Most commonly, it is a rolling of the thumb over the index finger with the hand at rest, the so-called pill-rolling tremor. Still, even with all these signs present, Parkinson's cannot be a certainty. No lab test, no X-ray technique, no scan can clinch a diagnosis. It is all observation and the doctor's diagnostic experience.

1991 North America Syndicate Inc.