Harold Braun, aged 74, has miraculously survived being stung more than 250 times in an attack by bees while he mowed the lawn in his Waco, Texas backyard. The poor man was hospitalized after he ran over an area covered by a rubber mat and the movement agitated a hive of nearby bees. Paramedics pulled more than 150 stingers from his body and the hospital staff removed another 100 or so.
Harold Braun is a lucky man, as many people would not have survived such a massive attack. Single stings can also be deadly depending on individual allergic reactions to the bee venom. Paramedics acted quickly in this case as they knew very well the one rule of thumb that always applies when dealing with a bee sting: remove the stinger as quickly as possible. The longer the stingers remain in the body, the more severe the reaction from the sting will be.
Mr. Braun’s unfortunate encounter also serves to negate an enduring myth about bee stings and older individuals concerning their susceptibility to severe reactions. The facts are that the older one gets, the less histamine the body produces, which translates into a less severe allergic reaction than one occurring in a middle aged or young person. Remember too, that a bee sting can be fatal under some circumstances no matter how old or young the stingee? stungee? (Oh well).
Here are some steps to reduce the incidence and impact of bee stings:
1. Get away from the bee if it is at all possible.
(It’s not after all, like meeting an in-law you don’t care for. You don’t have to make its acquaintance if you don’t feel so inclined.)
Bees release a warning scent to other bees, which means that you will be greeted just like General Custer was when surrounded and out-numbered by angry natives upon the arrival of reinforcements. (You may not have broken any tribal agreements and always been honest and above-board in your dealings, but the bees don’t care.)
2. If a bee stings you, remove the stinger as quickly as possible.
You will see it as a small black dot at the sting site. Removal is easiest with a hard object such as a credit card or a blunt knife swiped quickly across the area.
The venom sack of the honeybee can take up to three minutes to release its full supply and prompt removal can therefore reduce the severity of the sting.
3. Clean the area with soap and water, and then apply hydrocortisone cream to the site to decrease the severity of the reaction.
Alternative “home” treatments include a paste made of unseasoned meat tenderizer and water (the enzyme in meat tenderizer can break down bee venom) or a paste of baking soda and water.
4. If you or someone you are with is allergic to bees and has been stung, check to see if the victim is carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen®).
If so, help them use it as directed. Call 911 immediately if the victim is supposed to carry one of these devices and does not have it.
5. If any symptoms develop, such as itching, redness, raised welts or shortness of breath, the victim may be experiencing anaphylaxis and you must call 911 immediately.
(Do not pass go, do not collect $200.)
6. Take the victim to the hospital emergency department if more than ten stings are involved, or if there are bee stings inside the nose, mouth, or throat.
Swelling from these stings can cause a dangerous shortness of breath.
Remember that some itching and the appearance of a wheal (raised bump) at the site of the sting are common and can be soothed by calamine lotion or an antihistamine. The victim may also experience some redness, swelling and pain, but all of these symptoms should go away in a day or two and an ice pack at the site can reduce some of the swelling.
According to the Merck manual, the average person can tolerate 10 stings per pound of body wait. The average adult can withstand approximately 1000 stings, but about 500 stings can kill a child. Boy scout leaders should live up to their name about being prepared and should carry at least one epinephrine auto-injector in their medical kit for any outing.
There are also some myths about bee stings that need to be debunked. One of them concerns the belief that after a first bee sting, future stings double and triple in severity. This is not true, and in fact the opposite applies, as repeated stings actually invoke a lesser reaction.
Another myth that is partially true states that bees can see and sting in the dark. The truth is that they can sting in the dark as a stimulus response action, but they cannot see in the dark. If you are being chased by a swarm of bees, run to a darkened wooded area or a dark shed or garage if possible.
A nursing official at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, Texas, told the press that Harold Braun was in stable condition and was expected to make a full recovery.
Good luck, Harold and…maybe consider staying indoors for a while?