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Bee Stings

Bee stings can be very painful, or fatal for some people. Bees are one of many stinging insects known as hymenoptera. Wasps, yellow jackets and hornets are the more common stinging insects. The two major differences are bees are herbivores while wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are carnivores; the second major difference is bees leave the stinger and die. Vespid wasps (yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets) are the most aggressive stinging insects.

Of two hundred reported bee sting fatalities per year, only twenty were anaphylactic shock, the body’s reaction to bee venom. The remainder were atherosclerosis, pre-existing conditions or simply scared to death (simple shock). Epinephrine is the treatment for anaphylactic shock 0.1 mg. Like other sensitivities there is a preventative treatment of regular injections by a doctor. Repeated stings have been shown to be less severe even in the most allergic individuals.

Bees foraging for nectar and pollen are not defensive, except self-defense. Bees sting to defend the hive. When a bee stings pheromones are released signaling other defenders of an intruder. The beekeeper masks the alarm pheromone with smoke. Removing the stinger and getting away from the hive are the best defense from repeated stings and not in that order.

If stung remove the stinger as quickly as possible. Bee stingers are actually a pair of barbed lancets, a stylus and venom sac. The lancets alternately pull the stinger into the deep tissue. The venom sac pumps venom into the wound until the stinger is removed.

For many years beekeepers said to scrape the stinger off without pinching the venom sac. Like any pump, very little additional is forced through by squeezing the sac. The most important point is to remove the stinger as quickly as possible before the lancets can pull it deeper into the skin and the venom sac can pump venom in. PMID 8709689.

Topical application of first aid products, aloe, aspirin, baking soda, clay, garlic, meat tenderizer, onions, salt, tobacco, toothpaste, urine, vinegar, even pennies have been tried. Venom is injected under the skin so no topical treatment is more than psychological. Ice packs are effective to reduce swelling.

Chemical composition
30-50% melittin, 10-20% phospholipase A2, 2% hyaluronidase, 3% Apamin, 2% mast cell degranulating peptides, <1% histamine
  • Melittin bursts blood and mast cells
  • Phospholipase destroys cell membranes, synergistic with melittin
  • Hyaluronidase hydrolyzes hyaluronic acid that glues tissue together allows penetration
  • Apamin neurotoxin causes tremors
  • MCD peptides release histamine from mast cells anti-inflammatory
  • Histamine burning itch redness local reaction