Questions and Answers from E-Mail:

How to Avoid Bee Stings

Q. "My question is, how do I avoid getting stung?"

A. - ...I could respond with a stupid answer, but this is a serious concern to so many people. So here are some materials I've found off on the 'net. Hope this helps...

To avoid being stung by bees, wasps and other insects, Dr. Brian Bates, medical director of the emergency room at Methodist Children's Hospital of South Texas, offers these nine tips:

1. Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing, which attracts stinging insects.

2. Don't use perfume, which also attracts insects.

3. If you plan to use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first at least 45 minutes before you go out in the sun. Then apply the repellent. Applying them at the same time reduces the effectiveness of both.

4. Check the label of the insect repellent you use; it should contain no more than 10 percent of the chemical DEET. The American Academy of Pediatrics says any higher concentration can be harmful to children.

5. Use insect repellents sparingly. Apply them to any exposed skin except the fingertips, where children may lick it off.

6. If you or your child is stung, check the sting to make sure the stinger has not been left behind. If you see a stinger, gently remove it with tweezers.

7. Check with your physician before using lotions containing benadryl or other antihistamines. These generally are not recommended for children under age 2.

8. Call for medical advice if your child develops hives all over his body or swelling near the eyes, lips or penis.

9. Call 911 if your child shows sudden difficulty breathing, weakness or unconsciousness.

From the Mayo Clinic: This important information on Insect Stings from the Mayo Clinic...

Also, the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research released this material through their publisher, Oasis:

Most of us find insect stings annoying, but for some people they are life-threatening. Oasis interviewed James T. Li, M.D., a Mayo Clinic specialist in allergies, asthma and immunology, for advice about dealing with severe allergies to honeybees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and other stinging insects.

Oasis: What's the first line of defense against insect stings?

Dr. Li: Avoiding stings is the best strategy. The first step is to know which types of insects you're allergic to, whether they're bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, or others, such as fire ants. Allergy testing is the way to determine this conclusively. That's why we recommend allergy tests for anyone who's had a systemic reaction to an insect sting. A systemic reaction means anything other than a local reaction at the point of the sting, such as wheezing or dizziness.

Then you can take more specific steps to avoid the stings. For example, with honeybees, avoid beehives. If you're allergic to yellow jackets — which is quite common among people who have insect sting allergies — remember that they often nest in dirt mounds and old logs. Learn to recognize the nests and avoid them.

Yellow jackets are attracted to picnics and outdoor food stands. Be especially wary in these situations and avoid open trash cans.

Oasis: What are the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction to insect stings?

Dr. Li: If you have no particular allergy to insects, observation is all that's necessary. What usually occurs is a local reaction - pain at the site of the sting and maybe a small amount of swelling and redness that subsides after a few days.

On the other hand, people who are allergic to a sting might develop itching, hives, or welts all over their body within minutes.

When people have severe allergic reactions, they may swell around the eyes, lips, hands or tongue. They might also start wheezing and have trouble breathing. If there's swelling in the throat or tongue, they may feel like it's difficult to get air. Some people have a drop in blood pressure, feel faint, even lose consciousness.

Oasis: That sounds like a time to call 9-1-1.

Dr. Li: Yes. For a severe reaction like I just described — called an anaphylactic reaction — get emergency transport to a hospital for immediate care. Fortunately, these reactions are fairly unusual.

Oasis: How do I know if I need to get allergy shots for insect stings?

Dr. Li: If you develop an allergic reaction from an insect sting, see a doctor to discuss allergy shots, also called immunotherapy. The doctor — usually an allergist — will take a detailed history to find out what happened when you were stung and do allergy skin tests. This allows you to find out whether you have an allergy, and, if so, to which insects.

When we identify people who are allergic to insect stings, we offer allergy shots as treatment to desensitize. These allergy shots are nearly 98 percent effective in protecting people against future reactions.

Oasis: How long do people need to take the allergy shots?

Dr. Li: Years ago we weren't sure. Once people started the shots, they received them indefinitely.

Today we know that many people — not all, but many — can stop the allergy shots with a risk of future reactions that is quite low. And, if they have a reaction, it's more likely to be mild.

The decision about stopping shots is always up to the individual, based on the concerns of each person and how severe the previous allergic reactions were. For a life-threatening reaction, we have to be pretty cautious about stopping the shots. But again, that's unusual. Most people should have a discussion with their doctor about stopping shots after 3 to 5 years.

Oasis: If you have severe reactions to insect stings but you don't get shots, what other means are there to protect yourself against a reaction?

Dr. Li: We also recommend carrying an allergy kit for insect stings at all times. This is especially true for people who choose not to proceed with allergy shots. This kit includes epinephrine (adrenaline) for immediate treatment of a reaction. You should inject yourself after an insect sting if there are early signs that a reaction is developing. Usually, the injection of epinephrine will stop the development of a severe allergic reaction. However, highly sensitive individuals still can experience a severe reaction even if epinephrine is used. Therefore, we recommend that people experiencing a severe sting reaction seek medical care immediately even after self-administering epinephrine.

The following posted notes on the 'net from Adrian Wenner are also very instructive: Date: Mon, 14 Sep 1998 14:57:37 -0700 From: Adrian Wenner Subject: Re: Yellow jackets! MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii" A few years ago I responded to the following problem, with a package that got posted on the FAQ: >I had noticed that my hive has been rather feisty as of late and was >perplexed until I opened my hive the other day and was attacked by a >yellow jacket! >I looked inside for evidence of bee slaughter, and found a couple of dead >bees with their abdomen removed. What can I do to beat off these pest >before winter sets in (I'm up in Vermont, so I have less than a month to >the first frost in my area. Some regions have already had a frost) and >shore up the colony. ********* I repeat here the writeup: ********* YELLOW JACKET CONTROL Yellow jackets (Vespula spp. - colonial wasps), can pose a severe problem for people when these wasps aggressively seek food. (Remember, though, yellow jackets are not all bad; they do pollinate plants, such as squash, and dispose of waste matter.) Early in the season meat is preferred; later they focus more on sweets [a conclusion that needs testing]. Normally, a colony lives only a year, after its start in the spring of each year by a single mated and overwintered queen. As the season progresses, nest sizes grow and can contain thousands of individuals by late summer or fall. In mild climates colonies can even overwinter. Effective control measures vary according to the circumstances. 1) At eating areas In a backyard, wasps can be kept under control by diligent use of traps (next section). Public picnic areas, however, have wasps already conditioned to the readily available food supply (messy previous picnickers). Bring along a fly swatter and eliminate the early arrivals - other wasps are then not recruited. Fortunately, individuals of many yellow jacket species do not attack when not near their nest. Wasps do not hesitate to go into soft drink cans or bottles, posing a problem for anyone not paying sufficient attention before taking another swallow. Neither do they hesitate to ride along on a meat sandwich as it is put into one's mouth. Watch out, also, wasps seek out meat covered hands, fingers, or utensils. If one places an effective trap (next section) 20-30 feet upwind from the picnic table, the foraging wasps, when shooed away by picnickers, continue to go upwind past the picnic table and end up in the trap . 2) Remote treatment Yellow jacket bait traps have been used more than a century, with one basic characteristic in design: Wasps will fly into a funnel (sometimes quite small) to get at the bait provided and then cannot get out of the transparent or translucent enclosure that incorporates the funnel. One can buy any variety of ready-made traps with a wide range of effectiveness. The following two companies (among others) have produced successful traps: Seabright Laboratories, 4026 Harlan Street, Emeryville, CA 94608, (800) 284-7363 or (415) 655-3126; Sterling International, Inc., P.O. Box 220, Liberty Lake, WA 99019, (800) 666-6766 [FAX: (509) 928-7313]. These commercial traps can become clogged with yellow jackets in a relatively short time during severe infestations, and then one must remove them. The problem then arises that live wasps may still be inside and pose a threat. In that case, one can place the trap in a freezer or an ice chest, wait until the cold immobilizes the wasps, empty the trap into a plastic bag, and keep tightly closed until they suffocate. One can also construct a simple and safe trap at virtually no cost - an example follows. Start with a one gallon translucent milk bottle. With a razor blade, cut a couple of small slits downward from one point (three quarter inch across at the bottom), a little more than halfway up the sides. Bend the point so formed inward. Fashion part of a wire coat hanger into a hook at the bottom and thread it through a small hole punctured into the cap so that the hook will be down about halfway to the bottom of the bottle when inserted. Bend the top of the coat hanger piece so that it can be suspended from the lid. Fill the bottle about one-third full of soapy water. Then pierce a small piece of turkey, salami, or ham (small enough to go through the bottle opening) with the hook and put the lid, hook, and meat in place in the bottle's neck. Hang the bottle in a tree or bush upwind from the area where wasps are not wanted. You might also dig a hole and place the bottle in the ground so the dowiwind opening is at ground level (wasps often search along the ground for food). If no gallon bottles are available, a one-liter transparent soft drink bottle should suffice. 3) Nest location known (perhaps with more than one entrance) If one knows the location of a ground nesting colony (e.g., Vespula pennsylvanica), the entire colony can be exterminated quite easily by using nothing more than soapy water. Take care, though, because these wasps are highly defensive of their nest, usually allowing one to get no closer than about 10 feet before attacking. Some people prefer to treat the colony at dawn or late evening, when activity at the entrance is less than in mid-day. Fill an adjustable nozzle spray bottle with water, add one level tablespoon of liquid detergent, and shake. Set the spray nozzle on stream, approach from downwind (also from downslope or protected by bushes, if possible), and spray wasps (guards as well as departing and returning individuals) at the nest entrance as fast as possible from a distance of 10-15 feet (practice at a target first to improve aim). Wear full protection, including a beekeeper hat and veil, if possible. Once all activity at the entrance has ceased, pour a bucket of soapy water into the ground through one of the entrances and block all entrances with a shovelful or two of dirt. 4) A take home poison When wasp infestations become severe, you may wish to use stronger measures. To reduce their numbers, one can lace a desired food with poison after yellow jackets become committed to that source of food. With this method, timing and procedure are somewhat critical. Expose marauding wasps to canned cat food, such as a shrimp and tuna mixture. Allow the number of foragers to build up into a "feeding frenzy." Then provide a second dish alongside the first, but one laced with a take home poison. Orthene (20 drops per small can of cat food) or KNOX OUT (trade name for a micro-encapsulated diazinon product; one-half teaspoon per can). Don't attempt to use straight diazinon, or the laced food will be rejected). 5) Trapping with heptyl butyrate A new trap used on Santa Cruz Island, California in 1995 caught more than 10,000 yellow jacket wasps (Vespula pennsylvanica) per day during a three-day period. The trap is VERY simple. Adapt a gallon milk/water jug with screw top lid into the trap. On the flat surface underneath the handle, cut out a 2" X 4" rectangle and cover the space with a screen by using masking tape (a stickier tape would be better). On the two opposite faces, about half way up the bottle, cut two sides of a triangle (1" long, apex up) and bend the flap into the bottle. Partially fill the bottle (about 1.5" deep) with a strong solution of soapy water (teaspoon per quart), taking care to not have many bubbles above the water surface. Then dip a pipe cleaner only a little way into pure heptyl butyrate, insert it into the top of the bottle, and clamp it in place with the screw top lid. In the morning place the bottle on the ground with screen side toward oncoming wind. Soon a crowd of wasps will come from downwind. Heptyl butyrate is very expensive, but it can be diluted with ethanol. Some suppliers have more reasonable prices than others. A reasonable choice: Pfaltz & Bauer, Inc. 172 East Aurora St., Waterbury, CONN. 06708 (203) 574-0075 - a little over $70 for 100 mg in 1996. Be careful and don't spill, though, unless you want the wasps everywhere! Also, heptyl butyrate apparently does not have a long shelf life unless refrigerated. Adrian M. Wenner Prof. Emeritus (Natural History) Univ. of Calif., Santa Barbara 9/98 Adrian M. Wenner (805) 963-8508 (home phone) 967 Garcia Road (805) 893-8062 (UCSB FAX) Santa Barbara, CA 93106 ************************************************************************

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