Even though bee colonies have been collapsing in droves in recent years, people still manage to disturb their hives on a frequent basis. Whether you’re on a hike in the wilderness, or just clearing brush on your property, running into a bee hive can prove disastrous for your health, or at the very least, ruin your day.
Just last week a man from Kingman Arizona was nearly killed by a swarm of bees as he was working in his yard. He managed to run to his car, but in that short distance he was stung between 500 and 1000 times. He had to be rushed to the hospital, but is in stable condition. It just goes to show you how fast you have to think and act if you ever raise the ire of these insects. And just like dealing with any other type of dangerous animal, there’s a few things you should know ahead of time before you encounter them.
Like many insects, bees are seasonal in nature. They’re typically the most active between March and October, which you’ll recognize as the same time of year most people are enjoying the outdoors. You should also know that bees can be rather unpredictable. Obviously, if you poke the hive with a stick, you’ll be attacked, but many innocent activities can trigger a swarm.
Sometimes brightly colored clothing or the glint of jewelery can be perceived as a threat. The scent of certain colognes and perfumes, sudden movements and vibrations, as well as loud sounds can also provoke them. It’s also important that you never swat at a solitary bee that may be buzzing around you. As annoying as they may be, killing a bee will often cause it to release a pheromone that will alert his comrades.
As for people who are most vulnerable to bees, obviously if you’re allergic to bee stings, it won’t take much to put you in the hospital (sometimes a single sting can kill) Other vulnerable demographics include the very young and the very old. Pets are also quite vulnerable, not only because they tend to stick their noses in places they shouldn’t, but also because of their low body weight. The average person can safely withstand up to 10 stings per pound of body weight, so a 50lb dog is not going to be able to handle anywhere near as many bee stings as a full grown human.
Now that we have all of that out of the way, what should you do if you’re facing a swarm of bees? While it’s easier said than done, like most dangerous situations, it’s important to keep your wits about you and stay as calm as you can. The most important thing you need to protect is your face, so cover it with your hands or pull your shirt over your head. Again, don’t swat them or flail your arms around, and minimize any unnecessary movements. Bee’s are very sensitive to sound and motion, so don’t go attracting any more of them.
Next, you’ll need to take shelter. While most people recommend that you should submerge yourself in any nearby pool of water, this may not be a good idea. While it will prevent the bees from stinging you, they’ll likely wait for you on the surface. Since most bees can swarm for several hours, or in the case of Africanized bees, several days, this isn’t a doable option. Your best bet is to get inside your house or car, and close the windows.
If shelter is not nearby, and you happen to be a fairly good runner, you should be able to flee them. European honeybees will typically chase their target for about 100 yards, so most people in decent shape should be able to get out of harms way. Africanized bees however, have been known to chase people for up to a quarter mile or more. Even if you’re an Olympic sprinter, you may still rack up a potentially lethal number of bee stings in that distance. Since it’s safe to assume that you won’t be stopping to check what kind of bee you’re dealing with, err on the side of caution and seek shelter (if available) instead of trying to outrun them.
Once you’re safely sheltered, there are one of two things you should do. If you’re not allergic and you haven’t sustained a high number of stings (remember, 10 per pound of body weight) you should immediately contact the authorities or anyone who lives nearby. Since the hive may be swarming for several hours or more, you need to warn as many people as you can.
But if you think your life is in danger, you need to immediately begin the process of removing the stings. You should remember that even though the stinger is no longer attached to the bee, it’s still pumping venom into your body. Fortunately, removal is a pretty simple process that shouldn’t take too long. It’s often recommended that you don’t use tweezers, which may push more venom out of the stinger. Use a credit card or your fingernail to scrape the stinger out.
Tape can also be used to pull it out, but if all else fails, you should apply ice the area to reduce the swelling first. Once this is done, you should probably take an antihistamine like Benadryl, and apply topical ointments to reduce the pain. If you see or feel swelling, itching, or hives in parts of the body that are far removed the site of a sting, you may be experiencing an allergic reaction, and should seek professional medical help. Other signs of an allergic reaction include breathing problems, nausea, and dizziness.
So there you have it. While deaths from bee stings are not that common in the United States, the attacks number in the thousands every year. So should you be attacked by bees this summer, don’t panic, and follow these lifesaving tips.