Busy Bees

September 08, 2015

Fall is a great season for outdoor festivals. Bright sunny days highlight the stunning fall foliage. Fall harvests of apples and pumpkins bring families and community groups out for a day of fun. Apple, pear and peach picking is an activity enjoyed by all; long remembered by a young one and still exciting to us older ones. But watch out! There are other creatures that enjoy the season as much as you do. They fill the fields and farms, and visit the festivals, buzzing about their work. As you pick an apple off the branch or are enjoying your cider doughnut, they seek revenge on the nearest human target who threatens their work.

 

Bee stings can be quite painful. For most people, a bee sting will cause pain at the site of the sting and a local reaction that may include itching, some swelling at the site and redness. 10-15% of those stung may have a larger local reaction that can last up to 10 days. But for 1-3% of the adult population (and less than 1% of children) bee stings can be life-threatening.

 

People who know that they are allergic to bee stings usually carry medication to take if stung. If you are allergic to bee stings, you should always carry the medication with you, especially at outdoor events, as well as wear a medical bracelet that will let others know about your allergy.  People who don’t know that they are allergic will not have emergency medications available. A severe allergic reaction (called anaphylaxis) to a bee stings may have one of more of these symptoms: nausea, shortness of breath, wheezing or difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips or throat, a feeling that their throat is closing, dizziness, confusion, rapid heartbeat, or hives. If the person who has been stung experiences any of these symptoms, get immediate medical help.

 

There are lots of “folk” remedies for treating bee stings, including meat tenderizer or baking soda pastes applied to the site or rubbing the area with an aspirin. The FDA Consumer Health Information website recommends:

  • Remove the stinger with a side-to-side scraping motion with a straight-edged object like a credit card or a ruler. (It does not recommend using a tweezers as that may push more venom- the bee’s poison- into the skin.)
  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply ice or another type of cold compress to relieve the pain.

Some other sources state that a pain-reliever (such as acetaminophen-Tylenol) may help with discomfort and a topical antihistamine cream (like a Benadryl-type product) may help to relieve itching.

 

Actions you can take to reduce your chance of getting stung include:

  • If you see two or more yellow jackets near the ground, you may be near an underground nest.  Stay away from the area. 
  • Trim hedges in late evening or on cool, overcast days when stinging insects are less active. 
  • Wear shoes.  Stepping on insects is a common cause of bites. 
  • Avoid orchards when fruit is fermenting. 
  • Avoid wearing bright colors, which attract bees.
  • Don’t wear aftershaves, perfumes, or other strongly scented products at outdoor functions.  This attracts insects. 
  • If a stinging insects lands on you, remain calm.  Accidental pressure on an insect’s body can provoke a sting.  Walk away from groups of bees calmly.
  • Watch your drink when you are outdoors. Bees (and other stinging insects) are attracted to sweet drinks and may land in yours!
  • Move garbage and trash cans away from the people at your outdoor event.
  • Insect repellents will not help with bees or other stinging insects. But they will help to prevent tick and mosquito bites, which is important to prevent Lyme disease and West Nile Virus.

 

Bees can be a real nuisance at picnics. Keep the foods on the serving table covered as much as possible. If you have open cans of soda or beer, be careful. Bees are attracted to the sweetness of the beverage and may land in the can. When you drink, you may get stung in the mouth. For free written information on stinging insects and/or allergic reactions, District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528 or request on line, dculligan@qvhd.org This column is authored by V. Deborah Culligan, Health Educator.