Children of beekeepers 'more likely' to be allergic

SALLY KIDSON
Last updated 13:00 06/02/2013

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The parents of the Golden Bay teenager who died from a bee sting are beekeepers who had both served on the executive of the National Beekeepers' Association.

Frazer Wilson is the current president of the Nelson branch of the association. His daughter, Eva Wilson, 14, died after going into anaphylactic shock after she trod on a bee on the deck of her family home in Golden Bay.

She was flown to Wellington Hospital on Friday night by the Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter but died on Saturday evening.

Eva has been described as a lovely, happy girl who was "gifted across the board", particularly in art.

National Beekeepers' Association president Barry Foster said Eva's death was a tragedy and the association sent its condolences to the Wilson family. He would be travelling to Golden Bay to attend Eva's funeral on Friday to represent the association and support the family.

The circumstances surrounding Eva's death are not known.

But her allergy to bees was known before the incident.

Immunologist Miriam Hurst said she had seen in some literature that beekeepers' children or family could be 20 per cent to 30 per cent more likely to be allergic to bees than the general population. This was because they tended to get stung more often as they lived near bees.

Beekeepers themselves might get stung so often they could become desensitised to the bee venom.

"Family members don't tend to get stung quite as often or frequently, but they still get stung more often than someone not living with a place with bees."

Beekeepers could also get an anaphylactic reaction from stings.

"We see quite a lot of people who are beekeepers or from beekeepers' families."

Anaphylaxis is a severe, whole-body allergic reaction to a chemical that has become an allergen. After being exposed to a substance such as bee sting venom, the person's immune system becomes sensitised to it.

When the person is exposed to that allergen again, an allergic reaction may occur. Anaphylaxis happens quickly after exposure, is severe, and involves the whole body.

In worst case scenarios it causes cardiac and respiratory arrest.

National Beekeepers' Association member Frank Lindsay said he had seen literature that the children of beekeepers were 10 times more likely to be allergic to bees.

He said beekeepers were being stung all the time and they could bring in the venom on their clothing and body.

"It is common, so basically we tell beekeepers that you wash your [beekeeping] clothes separately, everything stays outside."

Mr Lindsay said both his sons were allergic to bees to different extents. He was once told to get rid of the bees at one stage, but did not as his children were on the verge of leaving home.

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One of his sons could not even touch the bee truck without his skin starting to go into a rash.

That son carried adrenalin, he said.

Mr Lindsay was aware of other beekeepers' children who had died. He could remember a 2-year-old in Motueka, whose parents were beekeepers, who had died 10-15 years ago.

A girl in Napier, whose parents were also beekeepers, had recently had an allergic reaction.

"It's very sad, just one little insect."

He said, according to statistics he had seen, 1 in 14,000 people were seriously allergic to bee stings and there was one death in New Zealand every two to three years.

"The beekeepers are generally OK because we are getting stung all the time."

- The Nelson Mail

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