Bee sting fatalities rare, says doctor

SALLY KIDSON
Last updated 13:00 05/02/2013

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It is unusual to die from an allergic reaction following a bee sting, an allergy specialist says.

Dr Miriam Hurst said no-one had done studies in New Zealand but overseas data indicated between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent of the population had a generalised reaction to bee stings.

"Some people get large local [reaction]. If they get stung on the foot maybe their whole foot will swell up, but what you are looking for is a reaction where the whole body gets involved.

"Particularly in anaphylactic is where either the breathing is affected . . . or their blood pressure drops - those are what causes potentially the fatal complications."

Golden Bay teenager Eva Wilson died on Saturday evening in Wellington Hospital. Eva, 14, suffered an allergic reaction to a bee sting after she trod on a bee on the deck of her family home.

Eva was described by a family friend as a "happy, lovely" teenager who was always smiling.

Dr Hurst said there was a treatment available for people with life-threatening reactions to bee or wasp stings called "immunotherapy" or de-sensitisation where people were injected with bee venom.

The treatment started with tiny injections of venom, built up and was maintained in monthly injections.

It took five years to complete the process.

"On that the risk of having anaphylactic shock from a bee sting goes from about 70 per cent - to less than 2 per cent."

The service was only available in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The course was funded by the Government.

She worked out of Christchurch and has desensitised people from the West Coast, Dunedin and Queenstown. However, for those not in main centres the treatment was a significant disruption to their lives, as "the buildup phase" had to be done in a hospital setting.

It could be done in a week, but three months was standard.

"That's the only thing that will cure you."

If people were known to have a life-threatening reaction to bees or wasps they were advised to carry an adrenaline auto-injector and have an allergic-reaction plan to use as well.

Dr Hurst said not everyone who got stung and suffered a severe allergic reaction would be aware beforehand that they were so allergic to bees.

"Not everybody will have a history, some people may have a history of a milder reaction and some people may not have known they were allergic until they got stung."

Looking at overseas studies, the people who died from stings generally tended to be people with asthma and people who did not get adrenaline.

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Most were stung on the foot, in the afternoon.

Those people who had a milder reaction to bee or wasp venom but had asthma and lived a long way from medical treatment were also advised to carry adrenaline and have an allergic-reaction plan.

- Nelson

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