Bee Shocked: The Deadly Truth

It goes without saying that bees are lovable. For keepers and bee lovers, perhaps the most admirable creatures on Earth! Not only are they cute, they pollinate over 70 percent of the food we eat, and make the tasty golden elixir we love to slather on our toast in the morning. However, the trait we least like to recall is that bees can, in fact, be deadly.

While most of us have suffered the sting of a bee at one point in our life without too much hassle, others are less lucky. For someone with an allergic reaction to bees, their sting can be fatal. This condition is known as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life threatening, severe allergic reaction that occurs after exposure to an allergen (usually to foods, insects or medicines), to which a person is allergic. Not all people with allergies are at risk of anaphylaxis, but in Australia, the honey bee is the number one insect that can cause of this life-threatening shock. In turn, a single sting to someone who is anaphylactic without immediate medical response can cause death!

Luckily, we all know when we have had a misadventure with a bee; anyone who has been stung by a bee or wasp will feel the pain caused by the venom immediately; for most people this reaction is mild with a localised swelling. But to a very small amount of the population who suffer from anaphylaxis—estimated at just 2 percent across the world—this sting can be very dangerous and possibly lethal.

There are three categories of reaction to bee and wasp stings: mild, moderate and severe. A mild reaction is localised to the sting area, mild swelling will be present for up to several hours and the area will be slightly raised and feel warm to touch. An ice pack applied to the area will help cool the sting mark if required. A moderate reaction is when there is substantially more swelling and can often get worse over 12 hours from the initial sting. It can take up to ten days for the swelling to go down. An antihistamine tablet will help with the reaction but if you have any further concern, see a medical practitioner as soon as possible. Some people get worse with each sting and, if this is the case, it’s recommended to see your GP as you may need to go on a venom desensitisation program. A severe reaction, however, can be life threatening and requires emergency attention. Anaphylaxis can happen quite quickly, and the initial symptoms include a drop of blood pressure, skin reactions away from the sting site and loss of breath. If you have suffered this type of reaction consult your GP straight away. You will need to be assessed through the desensitisation program and carry an epipen with you at all times.

So what is an epipen? Epipens are disposable devices that administer adrenaline. Epipens are a prescription based item, required to be kept under 28.c and replaced every year. It’s recommended that before an epipen is administered to the patient, your local emergency contact number be called. Epipens come in two grades: one for adults and one for younger children. The epi-injector contains adrenaline (also known epinephrine) and it administered in the thigh (not directly into the heart as seen on the movie Pulp Fiction)! If the epipen is administered to the patient it is also very important that they go straight to hospital as they will require monitoring for several hours.

Bee Shocked: The Deadly Truth

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