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Bee Stings

By Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

For most of us, a bee sting isnít a common occurrence, but is highly memorable when it does occur!

For those who are curious, or those who care for young children, here are some details about bees and their stings to avoid future stings and treat them appropriately.

What is a bee sting?

There are actually many species of bees, not all of them are social and not all have the usual sting.

Native bees actually donít sting, produce honey, and are effective at pollinating crops and orchards. However, most of the captive bees producing honey in Australia are the introduced European Honey Bees, or Apis mellifera.

Female worker bees have a poison sac in their abdomen and an external stinger. Bees are defensive rather than attackers so only the hive guards require the ability to sting.

What happens when they sting?

Bees and wasps all sting by sticking their stinger into their victim and moving it back and forth in a sawing motion. Wasps, Bumble Bees and Carpenter bees then pull out their stinger and go away; Honey bees have a more barbed stinger and are unable to remove it from humans without ripping out part of their abdomen. Accordingly, these bees will die shortly after stinging a person.

Form the poison sac, venom is squirted into the victim. This can continue for about 20 minutes so getting the sting out quickly is important. The venom may actually release a hormone into the air which attracts other bees and makes them aggressive so further stings will occur; again, quick removal of the sting is important.

Bee sting venom is a clear liquid which is very acidic and has a sharp, bitter taste. It will dissolve in water and acid, but not in alcohol.

The body responds to the sting by flooding the area with blood fluid to flush out the venom. This fluid is what results in redness and swelling around the wound. The area affected will generally be larger with subsequent stings.

A non-allergic adult male would require something like 1500 bee stings to be life threatening. Most adults will experience a bit of swelling and discomfort for a couple of days and then forget about it.

There are 8 active ingredients in the venom, including histamine. The histamine itself doesnít cause a problem; however, an allergic person will start producing histamine in response to the sting and the histamine from the venom will just add to that total and cause problems.

The venom also includes melittin which is a very potent anti-inflammatory.

Bees and wasps have the same venom components, but the proportions change. In fact, bee stings contains more proteins and are thus more likely to produce an allergic reaction than a wasp would.

How to treat a bee sting

The first step is to remove the sting as soon as possible. It is commonly said that it should be scraped out instead of pulled, but speed is the most important factor Ė leaving the sting in for more than 15 seconds increases the severity of the reaction.

Rinse the wound with water, or wash with soap and water to remove any additional venom.

Put a cold compress on the wound to reduce swelling and pain. Even an ice cube will do.

Elevate if practical as this also reduces swelling.

At this stage, get help if a serious reaction is likely or suspected. If you are stung, tell someone near be straight away in case you develop serious symptoms.

Donít scratch at the bite, despite it getting itchy, as that could lead to infections.

Some old fashioned home remedies include:

Y    Paste of baking soda and water

Y    Toothpaste

Y    Raw slice of onion

Y    Meat tenderiser powder

Y    Laundry blue


Tash Hughes is a Microbiologist and the owner of Word Constructions. She is available to solve all your business writing problems! From letters to policies, newsletters to web content, Word Constructions writes all business documents to your style and satisfaction.
© 2005, Tash Hughes

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