Bee stings are a pain that all beekeepers must suffer sometimes everyday when working hive commercially but it shouldn’t happen too often. Correct application of smoke and quite bees considerably lessons the likelihood of being stung, but there are times during a change in the weather or during the robbing season (after the nectar flow has finished) when bees will become defensive.
Beekeepers children are ten times more likely to develop allergies to bees and strings than the normal public. The incident of serious reactions to bee stings is very low, although we hear of a serious incident which leads to death about every three years or more. But these incidents generally happen to those with a known sensitivity to stings who should have been carrying an anti-histamine product for safety.
For the average beekeeper, every time a bee is squashed or stings their protective suit, a minute amount of venom is deposited on the suit or gloves.
If these are left lying around in the house, this venom dries and is likely to be distributes throughout the house in the air and dust, which over time can lead to sensitivity in family members.
Children and adults are particularly sensitive when going through hormonal changes at puberty and for a woman during menopause.
Therefore it is very important for the beekeeper to disrobe before entering the house and immediately wash the protective clothing and areas where you have been stung...
It’s also important that your protective clothing is NOT washed with other household washing and this may also distribute tiny particle of venom to the other clothing (and or propolis which is very hard to remove). Constant washing softens the cotton fabric of the suit but it can be stiffen to make it relatively string proof again but giving it a spray of scotch guard.
Beekeepers should know the progression of a bee sting from a minor reaction up to developing into a dangerous systemic incident. (Persons over 40 years tend to have a greater reaction to bee stings). All households should have as a minimum some sort of antihistamine available to treat children and visitors who get stung and start to have a reaction.
Sometime the application of ICE to the sting area is all that is required. This numbs the pain and slows the spread of the venom reaction.
Note: A sting in the face will usually result in the closing of the eyes for a short time; (a day or so for a new beekeeper). There are so many muscles in the face that continue to move so will swell after a sting.
I. Normal, non-allergic reactions at the time of the sting
Pain, sometimes sharp and piercing
Burning, or itching burn
Redness (erythema) around the sting site
A white area (wheal) immediately surrounding the sting puncture mark
Tenderness to touch
II. Normal, non-allergic reactions hours or days after the sting Itching
A small brown or red damage spot at the puncture site
Swelling at the sting site
III.Large local reactions
Massive swelling (angioedema) around the sting site extending over an area of 10 cm or more and frequently increasing in size for 24 to 72 hours, sometimes lasting up to a week in duration
IV.Cutaneous allergic reactions
Urticaria (hives, nettle rash) anywhere on the skin Angiodema (massive swelling) remote from the sting site
Generalized pruritis (itching) of the skin
Generalized erythema (redness) of the skin remote from the sting site
V.Non life-threatening systemic allergic reactions
Allergic rhinitis or conjunctivitis
Minor respiratory symptoms
Severe gastrointestinal upset Weakness
Fear or other subjective feelings
VI.Life-threatening systemic allergic reactions
Hypotension or fainting
Respiratory distress (difficulty in breathing) Laryngeal blockage (massive swelling in the throat)
(Copied from ‘The Hive and the Honey Bee’, a Dadant Publication - table 3, page 1217)
Anti-histamine Epi-pens are available through your doctor or can be purchase from a chemist but it’s very important to know how to administer this correctly as it can be dangerous in untrained hands. (They are cheaper for National Beekeepers Association members - two for the price of one). Your local medical centre can instruct you on the correct application using Epi-Pens or a syringe with anti-histamine.
New beekeepers should test themselves before purchasing a hive to see that they are not allergic to bee stings. Most won’t be but there are a small proportion of the population with each sting received, there is an increase in reaction usually to the point (after a year) where a single sting can hospitalise the person. Generally you will be advised by the medical profession to give up beekeeping but there is a treatment where through a course of injection at the hospital over a year. Your body will develop an immunity to say two bee stings if successful. This is free under ACC.
For those that just swell a little each time, you can increase your immunity by being stung once a month. Now bee stings are always painful no matter how long you have been beekeeping but there is a way to administer a tiny amount of venom without the sting penetrating your skin. Remove the sting from the bee with tweezers and when a tiny drop of venom has formed on the tip of the sting, touch the drop to your skin. This small amount will cause a reaction without the pain from the melittin. This technique is used by the Japanese in their form of bee sting “Apitherapy”. In Apitherapy, the sting is applied to several trigger spots at a time and has the same affect of administering a single sting to each trigger point.
Beekeepers can suffer a fairly serious reaction to a single bee sting at anytime but generally this happens when your body’s immunity is low. Most of these episodes follow the same paths as a serious systemic reaction but at the point when your blood pressure lowers to where you can barely stand and your vision narrows, you come out of it. This is only one step short of a full on systemic reaction where you actually loose consciousness and then can sufferer heart failure.
As a beekeeper ages, (70 plus) your body does not produce the same antibodies necessary to promote immunity to bee stings and therefore reactions to bee stings can gradually get more serious to a point where the beekeeper must give up beekeeping.
I’m not a medical person. Consult your family doctor for advice. If he or she is not sure, asked to be referred to a hospital specialist.
It doesn’t happen very often but some people are allergic to pollen. Pollen is high in protein, contains minute amounts of vitamins and minerals and is taken by some as a supplement. Tastes vary depending upon the types of pollen but generally to tastes like pumpkin. (Products should contain a warning label).
It you are new to pollen take a few pellets and place them on the tip of your tongue and let them dissolve. Wait for 30 minutes to see if there is a reaction. – swelling of the tongue. If none, increase the amount daily until you can put a teaspoon full on your breakfast cereal.
Pollen should be fresh or stored in a freezer at-18°C to keep its goodness. Dried pollen has a shelf life of 2-6 months depending upon how it’s stored and displayed.
Hay fever suffers can take pollen but if you are allergic to grass pollens, it might not be any use as bees concentrate on tree and shrub pollens being far more nutritious. Pollen should be gathered from the area you live in.
Cappings (the wax outer covering on the honey comb) might be a better option but they should be obtained from your local beekeeper. A teaspoon a day contains a minute amount of pollen which can over time allow the body to tolerate pollen and make hay fever season more tolerable. Chew as you would for chewing gum and either swallow or eject from the mouth.
Propolis contains resins mostly from the buds of willow and popular trees, pollen and wax plus a little bee saliva which is added when the bees mould it into gaps and crevices in the hive.
A hive is warm and very moist around the brood area and without propolis (which is both anti-fungal and ant-biotic); moulds and funguses would grow to the detriment of the bees. Anything entering and dying in the hive which is too big for the bees to carry out is coated in propolis to stop contamination.
Beekeepers have known for years of the healing powers of propolis but it is now being used commercially in product like tooth paste and other oral products.
A few beekeepers handling frame constantly, can develop an allergy to propolis and must wear gloves to prevent a reaction, (itching and rash).
The stuff is hard when cold but becomes sticky when warmed. The only way to remove it from clothing is to use Isopropyl alcohol or ammonia based cleaning product like Handy Andy.
Bees fly in a direct line in and out of a hive through gaps in trees and between houses. Anything temporarily in the way is moved on by being bumped into - this includes people. Sometimes the flight path is directly over a washing line. The hive can be turned to face a different direction or a screen placed in front of the hive to direct the bees to a new flight path. Once they are flying above two metres high, they cease to be a nuisance to anybody in the area.
Unfortunately the only downside to beekeeping is that bees produce waste and evacuate when leaving the hive or when they hit wind when flying; (they lighten the load as to say). These tiny droplets contain wax and undigested pollen and when dry, are hard to remove off windows and cars.
Ammonia based products clean them off easily. Again turning or resighting the hives can alleviate the problem but not always as there is more spotting following a bout of inclement weather or on the first days of spring when bees start flying again.
Like all animals, bees need water and they will search out a standing body or a constant supply nearby. Unfortunately if they start visiting swimming pools, they can become wet and cannot fly and when contacted or stood on, will defend themselves by stinging.
The beekeeper can help eliminate this problem by providing a permanent water supply near the hive. A tap dripping into a bucket of sand with suffice. This has to be set up before a hive is moved in as bees are hard to retrain once they have found a good supply of water especially those that provide a little salt and minerals.
SOME PEOPLE HAVE A PHOBIA TO STINGING INSECTS:
A hive of bees represents a major problem to some people who just don’t like stinging insects. Doesn’t seem to matter that they could have a wasps nest developing in their garden, a hive seen in the neighbour’s property just can’t be tolerated. City dwellers are moving away from the natural order of things and just don’t like anything that can cause pain if stood on around.
There’s not a lot can be done. Some education can be tried. Take over a jar of honey as a sweetener and some drone for them to handle.
Luckily the local Councils require that they actually become a nuisance before they will take action but some officers take the easy way out and ask for the hive to be removed.
Sometimes out of site, out of mind is the best policy for this sort of problem.
There are of course genuine reasons such as the neighbour having "Systemic Allergic Reactions" to bee stings but I would like to see a doctor’s certificate verifying this before removing the hives permanently from the property.
Reference American Apitherapy Society - www.apitherapy.org
Beekeepers family members have a high chance of becoming allergic especially if they are not directly involved in beekeeping. They pick up tiny amounts of bee venom in the air and this can lead to them becoming allergic.
Never carry used beekeeping gear in the family car. Everything must go in the boot or on a trailer.
If stung; disrobe outside the house and wash hands and face before entering the house.
Store protective gear outside the house in a shed or the garage.
Wash your gear after every stinging incidence,
Never wash your bee gear with the family’s clothing. Always wash it separately.
Watch children especially around puberty.
All beekeepers at some time will have a bad reaction to a bee sting. Generally it happens when your health is down, and when a sting to administered at a site that causes the venom to get into your blood stream quickly, i.e. around the ear and neck.
Most bad reaction result in a rash over the body (itching), feeling faint, reduced eye sight to pin whole. Beekeepers generally come out of it within 5 minutes – severe but non-lethal reaction.
For an experienced beekeeper, a sting a day later will have no reaction.
Some beekeepers do become allergic to bee venom. Generally each reaction gets more severe. Consult your doctor and get a blood test to see if your blood does contain some antibodies and therefore the beekeeper can take a desensitising course of injections.
Some of this may be in your book already but a lot of new beekeepers say yes it was in the book but it wasn’t emphasised, so it wasn’t considered important.