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bees and wasps

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Bee, Wasp and Hornet Stings

Wasps and bees sting to defend themselves or their colony. Stinging involves the injection of a protein venom that causes pain and other reactions.

Wasps and bumble bees can sting more than once because they are able to pull out their stinger without injury to themselves. If you are stung by a wasp or bumble bee, the stinger is not left in your skin.

Honey bees have barbs on their stinger which remain hooked in the skin. The stinger, which is connected to the digestive system of the bee, is torn out of the abdomen as the bee attempts to fly away. As a result, the bee soon dies. If you are stung by a honey bee, scratch out the stinger (with its attached venom gland) with your fingernail as soon as possible. Do not try to pull out the stinger between two fingers. Doing so only forces more venom into your skin, causing greater irritation.

Most people have only local reactions to wasp and bee stings, although a few may experience more serious allergic reactions. Local, nonallergic reactions range from burning, itching, redness, and tenderness to massive swelling and itching that may last up to a week. These local reactions can be treated with ice, vinegar, honey, meat tenderizer, or commercial topical ointment to relieve the itching. An allergic reaction may include hives or rash, swelling away from the sting site, headache, minor respiratory symptoms, and stomach upset. These allergic reactions are not life-threatening and can be readily treated with an antihistamine.

Very rarely, a person may suffer a life-threatening, systemic allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting, which can cause anaphylactic shock (fainting, difficulty breathing, swelling, and blockage in the throat) within minutes of being stung. These systemic symptoms are cause for immediate medical attention. People with known systemic allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings should consult with their physician to obtain an Epi-PenTM or Ana-Guard Sting KitTM to carry with them at all times. The venoms of bees and wasps are different, so having a severe reaction to a wasp sting does not mean a person will have the same reaction to a bee sting.


Wasp Stings

In most people, a yellowjacket sting produces an immediate pain at the site of the sting. There will be localized reddening, swelling, and itching. Ice or analgesic creams often relieve the symptoms.


1. Apply cold water or ice in a wet cloth
2. Lie down
3. Lower the stung arm or leg
4. Do not drink alcohol

Some people experience an allergic reaction to yellowjacket venom. Allergic (anaphylactic) shock can be fatal if untreated. Symptoms usually occur 10-20 minutes after a sting but may appear up to 20 hours later. If you experience any of the following symptoms after being stung, obtain medical aid immediately.

  • Hives
  • Widespread swelling of limb
  • Painful joints
  • Wheezing
  • Faintness
  • Lie down; victim should not be moved
  • Lower the stung arm or leg
  • Apply ice
  • Do not drink alcohol
  • Apply a wide cloth tourniquet between sting and the heart (should be able to place 2 fingers under bands); release after 5 minutes
  • Get medical aid

Bee Stings

The danger of bee stings:
The two greatest risks from most insect stings are allergic reaction (which occasionally, in some individuals could be fatal) and infection (more common and less serious).

What to do if you are stung:
If you have been stung by a bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket, follow these instructions closely:

  • Bees leave behind a stinger attached to a venom sac. Do not try to pull it out as this may release more venom; instead gently scrape it out with a blunt-edged object, such as a credit card or dull knife.
  • Wash the area carefully with soap and water. This should be continued several times a day until the skin is healed.
  • Apply a cold or ice pack, wrapped in cloth for a few minutes.
  • Apply a paste of baking soda and water and leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Take acetaminophen for pain.

Other remedies for pain and itching may include:

  • dabbing on a tiny amount of household ammonia.
    Over-the-counter products which contain ammonia are also available for insect stings.
  • taking an over-the-counter antihistamine, if approved by your physician.
    Be sure to follow dosage instructions for children.

When to seek medical attention:
Seek immediate medical attention if you are stung in the mouth or nose as swelling may block airways. Also seek emergency care if any of the following symptoms are present, as these could indicate an allergic reaction:

  • large areas of swelling
  • abnormal breathing
  • tightness in throat or chest
  • dizziness
  • hives
  • fainting
  • nausea or vomiting
  • persistent pain or swelling



How to Avoid Bee Stings

As summer temperatures rise, the population of flying insects increases.  Many of these can be serious pests as well as beneficial.  We should consider avoidance rather than elimination of pollinators.  

Avoiding a stinging incident

Stay away from honey bee colonies. Because honey bees nest in such a wide variety of locations, be alert for groups of flying bees entering or leaving an entrance or opening. Listen for buzzing sounds. Be especially alert when climbing, because honey bees often nest under rocks or within crevices within rocks. Don't put your hands where you can't see them.

If you find a colony of bees, leave them alone and keep others away. Do not shoot, throw rocks at, try to burn or otherwise disturb the bees. If the colony is near a trail or near areas frequently used by humans, notify your local office of the Parks Department, Forest Service, Game and Fish Department, even if the bees appear to be docile. Honey bee colonies vary in behavior over time, especially with changes in age and season. Small colonies are less likely to be defensive than large colonies, so you may pass the same colony for weeks, and then one day provoke them unexpectedly.

Wear appropriate clothing. When hiking in the wilderness, wear light-colored clothing, including socks. Avoid wearing leather clothing. When they defend their nests, Honey bees target objects that resemble their natural predators (such as bears and skunks), so they tend to go after dark, leathery or furry objects. Keep in mind that bees see the color red as black, so fluorescent orange is a better clothing choice when hunting.

Avoid wearing scents of any sort when hiking or working outside. Africanized honey bees communicate to one another using scents and tend to be quite sensitive to odors. Avoid strongly scented shampoo, soaps, perfumes, heavily scented gum, etc. If riding, avoid using fly control products on your horse with a "lemony" or citrus odor. Such scents are also known to provoke or attract honey bees.

Be particularly careful when using any machinery that produces sound vibrations or loud noises. Bees are alarmed by the vibration and/or loud noises produced by equipment such as chain saws, weed eaters, lawn mowers, tractors or electric generators. Honey bees may also be disturbed by strong smells, such as the odor of freshly cut grass. Again, check your environment before you begin operating noisy equipment.

Pet safety. When hiking it is best to keep your dog on a leash or under close control. A large animal bounding through the brush is likely to disturb a colony and be attacked. When the animal returns to its master, it will bring the attacking bees with it. At home, be careful not to tie or pen animals near honey bee hives. The animals receive numerous stings because they can't escape the bees. If your animals or pets are being stung, try to release them without endangering yourself.




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