First aid for beekeepers

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First aid for beekeepers

General information

When a honey bee stings a person the sting, venom sac and venom pumping mechanism are left in the skin. The bee dies after this but the venom pump can continue injecting venom even after the bee has pulled away. This means that if the sting can be removed from the skin quickly the dose of venom received will be smaller. The quickest way of doing this is to scratch out the sting using a finger nail. Then the area must be smoked quickly to hide the alarm pheromone that attracts more bees to come and sting the same area.  If the bees sting gloves or clothing it is advisable to smoke the area quickly to prevent more stinging.

After a sting it is likely that the person will experience some kind of reaction to the sting venom. This will take the form of mild swelling and itching at the site of the sting. This is normal and will go down in few days. However, in the meantime a soothing balm or lotion should be applied and maybe something cold to reduce the heat from the swelling. In every country people will have their own traditional balms and herb for this purpose.

Occasionally some people will have a much more general reaction to a bee sting. This can range from a large swelling and itching to anaphylaxis (which is generalised shock and difficulty in breathing which can be fatal.) These people who are very allergic need to be careful if they are working with bees. However, even beekeepers who normally have little reaction to a sting can react adversely another time. Consequently it is important that you are prepared, know how to take proper safety precautions and to handle the bees in a way (very gently and quickly) and at times that do not make them angry and upset and that help can be called in an emergency. People should always go two together so they can help each other and use plenty of smoke on the bees and in the air around where you are working. If the smoker goes out then it is wisest to close the hive and leave quickly.

Beehives should not be abandoned carelessly in public places and should be kept free of vegetation so that people can see them and keep away. A sad story the writer heard recently was a young woman in DR Congo who was venturing to collect forest mushrooms and stumbled across a hive hidden in the vegetation. She knocked it over and was badly stung. In running away the baby she was carrying fell and was killed.

In the event of a bad reaction to stings

If a person is stung and in distress then it is important to know what to do.

  1. Move the person away from the hives as far as necessary to keep away from more stings.
  2. If the bees are following use plenty of smoke to keep people safe
  3. Do not go towards human habitation if many bees are following unless it is an emergency.
  4. Remove as many stings as possible as quickly as possible to prevent further injection of venom. Wash the area well to remove any remaining sting smells.
  5. Sit the person down and encourage them to stay calm
  6. If the person is conscious loosen any tight clothing at waist and neck
  7. Get the person to sit on the ground leaning against a tree, a wall or something that will support their back
  8. Calm the person and encourage them to breathe normally and regularly
  9. If there are signs of difficult breathing suitable medical attention is needed as soon as possible - either from a doctor, nurse or a traditional healer.

 If the person is unconscious they should be laid in the recovery position. This is where the person is laid on the ground on their stomach. They should be laid on their left side with the right knee bent, the left arm by their side and the right arm bent to support the chin.

Make sure the airway is clear and check that the person is breathing and has a pulse. Do not try to give them anything to eat or drink. They need medical attention as soon as possible. This extreme anaphylactic shock is rare but it does happen so it is important to be prepared and to treat the bees with respect and care.

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  • Journal Edition Number
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  • Resource Format Text
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  • Language English
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  • Author Bees for Development
  • Publisher Bees for Development
  • Published Date October 2016
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