Ant venom immunotherapy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial

Lancet. 2003 Mar 22;361(9362):1001-6. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)12827-9.


Background: The jack jumper ant Myrmecia pilosula is responsible for about 90% of ant venom anaphylaxis in southeastern Australia. We aimed to establish whether M pilosula venom immunotherapy (VIT) prevents lifethreatening sting anaphylaxis in otherwise healthy adults.

Methods: We did a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial of M pilosula VIT. Participants were randomly allocated either immunotherapy, in accordance with the semirush hyposensitisation regimen, or placebo. The primary endpoint was systemic reaction after a deliberate sting challenge. Analysis was per protocol.

Findings: We randomly allocated 68 healthy volunteers (aged 20-63 years) who were allergic to M pilosula venom to placebo (33) and VIT (35). Four on placebo were stopped early and 12 on VIT had their treatment allocations revealed before the sting challenge, thus 29 on placebo and 23 on VIT were included in the primary analysis. Objectively defined systemic reactions to sting challenges arose in 21 of 29 participants (72%) on placebo (8 reactions were associated with hypotension) and none of 23 on VIT (p<0.0001). Of the remaining 12 on VIT who underwent sting challenges after treatment allocations were revealed, only one reacted to sting challenge with transient urticaria that did not require treatment. After crossover of the placebo group to VIT, one of 26 had a reaction to sting challenge (transient urticaria). In all patients who had VIT, we recorded objective systemic reactions in 22 of 64 (34%) during VIT; two of which were hypotensive.

Interpretation: In well motivated, highly allergic, but otherwise healthy adults, VIT is highly effective in prevention of M pilosula sting anaphylaxis. The risk of systemic reactions during VIT means that treatment should be given where there is immediate access to resuscitation facilities.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anaphylaxis / classification
  • Anaphylaxis / immunology*
  • Anaphylaxis / prevention & control
  • Animals
  • Ant Venoms / administration & dosage
  • Ant Venoms / immunology*
  • Ant Venoms / therapeutic use
  • Ants / pathogenicity*
  • Bites and Stings / immunology*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Ant Venoms