Summer is just around the corner, insect bites and stings occur more commonly this time of the year. Bites from a group of insects classified as Hymenoptera by scientists account for the vast majority insect stings associated with significant medical problems and occasionally deaths in the USA. This group of insects include the bees, wasps, yellow jackets, ants, and hornets.
About 10 million people are stung each year by these insects. Ant bites alone make up more than 90% of that number. While distressing, serious manifestations affecting more than one body system e.g, skin/ lining of the nose, mouth or throat and the intestinal system or even the circulation can occur. These serious manifestations are called anaphylaxis in the medical literature and can be life threatening in about 60,000-80,000 children annually. Actual deaths from wasp and bee stings overall ranges between 30-120 annually in the USA.
These insects are social creatures and often sting to defend their colony. The bees, wasps and hornets of the Hymenoptera family fly slowly at about 4mph and often leave ample room for escape. Little children are slower moving and often can’t take advantage of this opportunity to get away quickly and avoid multiple stings.
How best to remove a stinger?
The honeybee is unique among other members of its species because it usually leaves a stinger in the skin after attacking. Wasps, hornets, yellow jackets do not do this. The longer the stinger stays in the skin, the more venom is released into the victim. Efforts to avoid disruption of the venom sac and release more poison into the body are at the heart of the current recommendation to use the blunt side of a spoon or other such utensil to scrape away the residual stinger when embedded in the skin. Tweezers are discouraged because these may actually encourage more venom release by squeezing in a pincer-like fashion. Bathing the affected skin areas with soap and water after removal and presenting for medical evaluation if additional concerns persist or symptoms worsen is recommended immediately. Prolonged prescence of the stinger deep within the skin may increase the likelihood of a serious medical reaction. Researchers at the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Riverside CA reported that prompt removal was far more important than the method of removal since their study showed that the bulk of the venom release occured shortly after the sting in their study published in the Aug 1996 issue of The Lancet.
The largest organ in the human body is the skin and the first line of defense against all things foreign like bacteria. The bite or stinger pierces through the skin and causes a good enough breach in the skin for bacteria from the environment to take advantage of this "open door" and make their way to cause infection under the skin. This could make the distress from the sting even worse, complicate the recovery process and will need to be evaluated by your physician.
Most stings occur in the proximity of a colony and noisy man-made activity. Perfumes, bright or dark colored clothing are well known inciting agents. Necessary precautions should always be taken when around a bee colony and local authorities need to be notified if there’s a swarm of bee sighting in the southwest USA. As of May 2000, reports of the very aggressive honey bee species called “ africanized killer bees” migrating from Brazil to the arid areas of Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico occurred.