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When bees strike
Andrea Hattingh

We assumed that bees are just another insect, playing their role in the greater ecosystem;  or so we thought, until the day a swarm of bees attacked our 20 month old baby girl and her nanny.

Why did they attack? We don’t really know. But when one bee stings, it releases a hormone that attracts other bees to come and fight as well. Unfortunately for us, the hive was in our garden so there were lots of bees around.

Emma and her nanny were rushed to hospital where they were treated for the bee stings. Emma stayed overnight due to the number of stings sustained and the nanny was discharged with medication to take home.

What to do when stung by a bee

First, the sting needs to be removed. It doesn’t matter how you remove it. It was previously thought necessary to wipe it out with a blade to avoid releasing more venom, but latest information shows that once you have been stung, the venom is in and it makes no difference how the sting is removed. So a tweezer will work well.

After the sting has been removed, an ice pack can be applied to the area to limit the swelling and pain. Administration of an antihistamine such as Allergex and pain killer such as Panado is also advised, especially for the little ones.

When a swarm of bees attacks, it is best to transport the person to the hospital for emergency treatment. This includes putting up a drip, giving intravenous antihistamines, steroids and analgesics. Often the person is admitted for overnight observation to make sure that there is no allergic reaction.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction to an allergen, in this case, bee stings. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and what to do. If a person is known to have an allergy to bees, administer the medication that they should have with them, then take them to the emergency room as soon as possible.  The signs of anaphylaxis can take up to an hour to present and include the following:

Why do bees attack?

A swarm will become most protective when it has lots of food and brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) in the hive. Bees protect their hives at all costs. If they are disturbed, they will sting. A pheromone is released during the stinging phase which immediately attracts other bees to come and defend the hive as well. Gerhard Olivier from Bees4me.co.za says that bees are more active in warmer temperatures, and anything, ranging from someone being near the hive to the smell of cut grass, petrol and sweat, can set them in attack mode.

How to stay safe

Try not to aggravate the bees, especially if a hive is nearby. Teach your children and carers about the dangers involved and that bees are to be respected. Most importantly, remember the first aid you need to administer when stung by a bee. Keep your First Aid Kit in a visible place in the home and/ or vehicle. Have bee hives professionally removed from your garden as a preventative measure.

Andrea Hattingh is a registered nurse at the Medi Clinic Hospital in Somerset West and mother to little Emma.

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