Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bee Week! - The Sting - Allergies

Firstly you need to know this - Bees do not sting just 'cos.
It kills a bee when they sting a human, our skin is so tough that it holds onto the stinger and when the Bee tries to fly away, their intestines get pulled out with the sting as it stays behind.
Eeuw, indeed!

Zeus and the Bees

A Greek Fable by the story-teller Aesop

One day the bee, the mother of the candles, paid a visit to the gods and brought them honeycombs and honey. Zeus, the King of the Gods, took great pleasure in the gift and wanted to offer the bee whatever she would ask.
And the bee said: "Zeus, give me a sting to defend my labors from the humans".But Zeus loved the human race too much, so he told the bee: "Certainly! I'll give you the sting, so you can defend yourself if someone takes your honey. But you must know that if you do evil to man, hitting him with the sting, you will immediately die- your sting is your life!"

In all the books and websites I found when I was investigating having Bees it always said, make sure you get tested for allergies to Bee stings before you get  a hive.
I wonder how many people actually do that, I also wonder how many people realise how bad it can be if you are allergic to Bee stings.

We didn't test for allergies in our family....turns out that we didn't need to as none of us started out allergic.
What I also didn't realise was, that you can become allergic, I guess I figured that you were either allergic or not, like some people can't deal with peanuts, gluten, lactose, tomatoes (I have a friend who cannot eat anything from the nightshade family - tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, aubergines etc etc).
I thought you would have been born this way.


Having had the Bees for about 3 years and having been stung about 4 times during that period I though everything was ok, each time I got stung though, the local reaction was more severe than the time before. Starting with a small red bump and a bit of itching, then a bigger area that turned red and swollen, next time it stayed painful and swollen for about 5 days. The 4th Bee sting was earlier this year, I wasn't even inspecting the hive, I was sliding a sticky board under from the back of the hive to check the mite levels. Which is normally a safe place to be. A Bee flew up to check me out, got caught in my hair and rather than squash it, I tried to get it out.
It panicked and stung me.
I removed the sting by scraping it away, (Never try to hold a Bee sting and pull it out as you will end up squeezing more venom into yourself) I put a cold flannel, and some baking powder on my forehead and took a swig of liquid antihistamine.
Within 10 minutes, my whole body was itching, and I had come out in hives all over my face and chest. So I did what any self respecting geek does and Googled my symptoms.
Having come to the conclusion that I was suffering an anaphylactic reaction to the Bee Venom I drove to the Emergency doctors 5 mins down the road. As I was filling in the admittance forms I could feel my throat closing up and started to feel faint, they got me on a stretcher, set up an IV and dosed me up with Hydrocortisone. Luckily I reacted to that and didn't need the adrenaline or the ambulance. I lay there for about  2 hours while the drugs took effect and  they made sure I wasn't going to 'bounceback' and suffer a relapse.

Swelling 2 days after the sting at my hairline.

Next steps, make an appointment with my GP for a referral to a specialist allergy clinic, luckily its only 10 mins up the road from work, and even luckilier (if thats even a word) my health insurance covered the cost of specialist consultations and de-sensitizing injections.
I tested highly allergic to Bees and now am on a course of De-Sensitising injections, I have been having a jab every week for about 10 weeks now, soon I go onto monthly ones. They increase the dosage a little every week, this week I got 1.2 of a Bee. My arm went red, swollen, itchy and sore but the reaction was only localised so I know its working so far. By the end of the course (5 years) I will be up to 2 Bees at once in the injections.
Giving up the bees wasn't really an option if there was a possible way around it, I'm looking forward to the summer now with them even though I still have to carry an epipen with me in case I ever get multiple stings.

While I was waiting for the results to come back and the options to be presented about de-sensitising I tracked down a Radio New Zealand Podcast by Simon Morton who went through a similar thing last year.
Simon puts out a radio show at the weekend on RNZ called 'This Way Up' all about various interesting things. He has documented his own experiences with installing chickens and then Bees in his backyard. We got our bees shortly after Simon got his and we were rapt by his stories from bee keepers about how you go about getting bees and looking after them. I contacted Simon who is a thoroughly nice chap and had a chat with him about how his treatment was going and how he felt now about dealing with his bees, he couldn't bear to give them up either once he had had an allergic reaction. It put my mind at ease about getting stuck into it and now I am immensely pleased that I have started the treatment. I don't think I would have been able to go through it without  health insurance though as it's not a cheap fix.

Thanks Sovereign Insurance :)

Further Reading and Resources:

Twitter accounts to follow

Podcasts to subscribe to
The Kiwimana Buzz

About Allergies and Desensitising treatments for insect stings in NZ

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