Africanized honey bees are also known as "killer bees" because they defend their nests more aggressively, with less provocation, and in larger numbers than the other honey bees
In recent years we shared several incidents of bee attacks and the reports from emergency services who attended to the victims of these attacks.
Safety depends on knowing what to do long before the crisis moment arrives. In this section we would like to share some safety suggestions with our road users on how to protect themselves from bee stings.
Who are at Risk of Bee Stings?
Most bee attacks can be traced back to some perceived provocation.
This also offers some insight to who is most at risk:
- Someone deliberately disturbing the hive.
- A person moving the lawn of cutting grass next to the road and the hive.
- Someone causing a vibration or noise with a tractor or power tool.
- A driver crashing into a tree or sub-station where a hive may be found
Where are the high risk areas/ places we are most likely to get stung be bees?
Bee hives are most likely to be found:
- Inside hollow trees, or in walls, attic, etc.
- Nests that hang from branches or overhangs such as eaves of a building.
- In shrubs, bushes, hedges, or on tree limbs.
- Near garbage and empty containers.
- In rubber tires, crates, boxes, abandoned vehicles, etc.
- Under shrubs, logs, piles of rocks and other protected sites.
- Inside rodent burrows or other holes in the ground.
- Structures such as fixed electrical sub-stations.
What are the hazards and health risks of getting stung by bees?
Most stings will only result in a temporary injury but sometimes it may be more threatening and even life -threatening. Someone startled or stung by a bee or wasp while driving, working with power tools or machinery could end up getting injured with much more than a sting!
Signs and symptoms from getting stung:
- Pain, swelling, itching, skin redness and a wheal around the sting sometimes spreading to a larger area.
- Swelling can sometimes be severe. For instance, if stung on the finger, the arm may be swollen even up to the elbow.
- Getting stung in the throat area of your neck could cause edema (swelling caused by fluid build-up in the tissues) around the throat and may make it difficult to breathe.
- This swelling is a mild allergic reaction and can last a few days. The area will be sore and uncomfortable but one should not give in to the temptation to scratch the stung area.
- Scratching the area could lead to an infection.
- In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction can occur. This situation is serious and can cause "anaphylaxis" or anaphylactic shock.
- Symptoms of anaphylaxis can appear immediately (within minutes) or up to 30 minutes later.
- Allergic reactions may include rash or hives, dizziness or headache, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, swelling not in the general area of the sting, shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing, shock and unconsciousness.
- This could also include swollen eyes and eyelids, wheezing, hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue.
- Other symptoms are dizziness or sharp drop in blood pressure, shock, unconsciousness or cardiac arrest.
- The victim could also suffer from severe headache and diarrhoea.
Only about one or two out of 1000 of the population is allergic or hypersensitive to bee or wasp stings. The average person can safely tolerate 10 stings per pound of body weight. Most deaths caused by multiple stings have occurred in elderly individuals who may have had poor cardiopulmonary functioning.
Preventative measures to avoid getting stung by bees
Preventing bees from settling in. It is important to know where they settle and to remove those risks.
- Bees and wasps nest in a wide variety of locations, such as pipes, holes, behind shutters, under shingles, cracks and crevices within trees and rocks, and hanging from branches.
- Prevent honey bees from building a colony in your house or yard, fill all cracks and crevices in walls, ventilation holes with steel wool and caulk.
- Remove piles of junk, honey bees will nest in an old soda can or an overturned flower pot.
- When the garbage will have "attractive" properties (such as pop cans, or candy wrappers), empty the garbage several times a day.
- Keep trash away from your home, camp, and vehicle and keep it covered.
- In outdoor public areas try to locate the food areas away from where crowds of people are.
- Clean drink dispensing machines regularly.
- Screen-in food stations where possible.
- Locate trash cans away from the food dispensing windows and eating areas.
- If there are fruit trees nearby, clean up any fallen fruit.
- Keep pet food inside the house.
- Fill holes in the ground, and cover the hole in your water valve box.
Avoiding contact with bees
- If you know you are allergic to be stings, avoid areas where they are likely to settle in such as gardens or orchards in bloom.
- Do not try to get rid of the nest or hive yourself. Call pest control professionals for such a task.
- If you intend to work or camp in the area, scout the area for bee/wasp habitat first.
- Look at what you are drinking and eating before you eat or drink. Bees and wasps are attracted to accessible food and water.
- Take care when drinking sweet beverages outside. Wide, open cups may be your best option because you can see if a bee is in them.
- Inspect cans and straws before drinking from them.
- Always cover food containers and trash cans.
- Don't wear sweet-smelling perfume, lotions, or hair products.
- Avoid brightly-coloured or flower-printed clothing.
- Loose clothing could trap bees between the cloth and your skin.
- Wear shoes that completely covers your feet.
- Be especially alert when climbing, digging, working outdoors
- Don’t put your hands where you can't see them.
- Be careful when using any heavy equipment that produces sound vibrations, such as chainsaws, weed eaters and pumps.
- When driving keep windows rolled up.
- If a bee gets in the vehicle while you are driving - Stay calm, pull over when it's safe to do so and roll your windows down.
- Don't try to swat at it while you are driving!
Escape from bee attacks
- When you come across a swarm of angry bees the most important thing to do is to move / run away as fast as possible.
- Keep escape routes in mind.
- When you don’t have a net with you, grab a blanket, a coat, a towel, anything that will give you momentary relief while you look for an avenue of escape.
- Use your shirt to protect your head, neck and face.
- The stings you may get on your chest and abdomen are far less serious than those to the facial area.
- Cover your mouth and nose as you quickly leave the area.
- Do not try to retrieve belongings nearby.
- Do not try to stand still in an attempt to fool the bees.
- Stay calm - Do not try to fight the bees as they have the advantage of numbers and the gift of flight.
- The more you wave your arms, the madder they will get.
- Run indoors as fast as possible.
- Even when some bees may follow you indoors remember that a bee can only sting you once.
What to do when stung by bees
Removing the Stinger
- First thing to do is remove the stinger. The end of a sting is barbed and will remain stuck in the skin even if the bee is removed.
- Muscles in the stinger allow it to continue pumping venom into the victim.
- The venom can still be injected for up to a minute after the bee detaches from its sting.
- The longer the sting is in the skin, the more will be the effect of the venom being injected.
- Do not pull the stinger out with your fingers or tweezers as it will squeeze out more venom.
- Scrape the stinger out sideways with your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, a dull knife blade, or other straight edged object.
Medical Response to Bee Stings
- Try not to panic – remain calm.
- How to alleviate the sting: Swelling may be reduced by putting ice on the wound and/or taking an antihistamine.
- Some home remedies include adding baking soda, vinegar or toothpaste to the area of swelling.
- It is beneficial to drink plenty of water.
- Wash the site with soap and water.
- Get medical help if the sting is near the eyes, nose or throat.
- If you have experienced a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting in the past, you will likely experience a similar or worse reaction if stung again.
- Have someone stay with the victim to be sure that they do not have an allergic reaction.
- If symptoms of an allergic reaction are experienced seek emergency medical assistance immediately.
- Symptoms can begin immediately following the sting or up to 30 minutes later and might last for hours.
- Anaphylaxis, or the inability to breathe, may occur within seconds or minutes of a sting.
- Anaphylaxis, if treated in time, usually can be reversed by epinephrine (adrenaline) injected into the body.
- Individuals who are aware that they are allergic to stings should carry epinephrine in either a normal syringe (sting kit) or an auto-injector (Epi-Pen) whenever they think they might encounter stinging insects.
- Doctors will prescribe a bee sting kit (self-injectable syringe containing epinephrine) to allergic people so they can carry the medication with them at all times.
- For people who are hypersensitive to stings, wearing a medical alert bracelet will enable first aiders to respond promptly and appropriately to a sting victim who is unconscious.
- If you have been stung many, many times at once, talk to your doctor. You may need to have your health monitored over the next few days or week.
Safety of workers
- Employers should be notified if a worker, especially one who works outdoors, has allergies to insect stings.
- Workers with a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should consider carrying an epinephrine auto injector (EpiPen) and should wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace stating their allergy.
- Co-workers should be trained in emergency first aid, be aware of the signs of a severe reaction, and know how to use the bee sting kit (self-injectable epinephrine).
- Employees should receive training on their risk of exposure, insect identification, how to prevent exposure, what to do if stung and how to prevent insect stings.
- Someone at the work site should carry a cellular phone in case a call is required for emergency medical help.
- Workers having to work in high risk areas could be protected by wearing appropriate clothing such as long sleeve shirts, long pants, and closed-toed boots or shoes.
- If you cannot avoid working near bees or wasps, wear a bee-keepers style hat with netting to cover your head, neck and shoulders.
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