It’s been decades since my last encounter with a bee sting, or the sting of any insect for that matter. So I’ve forgotten how painful and irritating they can be, until this past weekend. While on a hike, I found myself standing on a partially rotten log while climbing to a higher part of the trail. After a moment I realized my dilemma when I felt a bee sting on my ankle. Upon seeing several other agitated bees circling around my legs I made a leap off the log, but not before another bee stung me on my thigh.
I knew they were bee stings (as opposed to wasp or yellow jacket) because in both locations, I found the stinger with the attached venom sac and quickly removed them. I don’t believe that the colony was Africanized, since they were not excessively aggressive, nor did they pursue me much beyond about 20 yards from their hive. Typically, Africanized bees are much more aggressive in their defense and will chase invaders up to about 150 yards. Otherwise, there would be no telling the difference, as the symptoms of the sting is the same between Western Honey Bees, and Africanized Honey Bees.
Good thing I’m not allergic either. For most people, bee stings are simply an annoyance. For about 2% of people stung by bees, anaphylactic shock, a hyper-allergic reaction is possible. Bee venom (apitoxin) is a mixture of proteins, but the primary ingredient is melittin, an amino acid, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is touted as the primary reason for the effectiveness of bee venom therapy on arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis and multiple sclerosis. These results have not yet been duplicated in research. Studies by Allegheney University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia, Georgetown University Medical Center, and University Medical Center in Groningen, Netherlands found no effectiveness of bee venom therapy on MS.
While bee venom might contain anti-inflammatory proteins, my immediate reaction was a burning sensation, swelling and pain, which was only made worse in the hike back home. After several hours, the general pain lingered with occasional sharp pains, followed by redness and itching. My symptoms are pretty standard and the soreness and itching can last up to several days following the sting.
The immediate first-aid for a bee sting, if you are not allergic is the following:
- Remove the sting and connected venom sac as quickly as possible. It doesn’t matter how your remove it, it’s more important to remove it quickly to reduce the amount of venom that is injected. The muscles attached to the venom sac will continue to pump venom even after it is detached from the bee itself.
- Wash the area of the sting with soap and water.
- Applications of cold compress and/or ice packs will help to reduce the irritation and swelling.
- Complications include: an allergic reaction within about 1 hour from the sting, which might lead to anaphylactic shock, a life threatening condition for which medical attention must be sought immediately; secondary bacterial infection from the wound itself – in fact if you are past 10 years since your last tetanus immunization, the common advise is to get a booster within a few days of the sting.
- Otherwise, time of up to a week is needed for the reaction to the venom to subside.
Fortunately for me, I’ll only be suffering with some itching for another day or two. The pain is gone and the swelling has nearly disappeared. The lasting side-effect for me is an increased awareness of where the next bee colony might be hiding and pay more attention to my surroundings. That way the honey bees will stay happy, and maybe I’ll get to successfully complete my hike.