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BEE safe and BEE prepared 29 Jul 2015

Bee stings are part and parcel when it comes to beekeeping, but while they’re considered a minor inconvenience to most, allergic reactions can change over time and become more severe, even for the most seasoned of beekeepers.

To adequately prepare for an adverse reaction, experts are urging hobbyist and commercial beekeepers to ensure their first aid kit is kept up to date in case a severe reaction occurs from a bee sting.

With over 37 years’ experience in the industry as a commercial beekeeper and trainer, Des Cannon has personal experience in how bee stings can develop into something quite serious.

“A small percentage of people can develop severe reactions, often after a number of stings. This can include a drop in blood pressure, hypotension, breathing difficulties, swelling in the throat, fainting, unconsciousness or even anaphylactic shock,” Mr Cannon said.

“Our daughter was stung a number of times when she was younger without much of a reaction. Then when she was 15 she was stung in the nose and couldn’t get the sting out, and within five minutes she was having trouble breathing from an allergic reaction.

“We were only 15 kilometres from a hospital so we were able to get her help quite quickly, but she spent the next three hours on an anti-histamine drip.”

The Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership has produced a series of videos featuring Mr Cannon to help raise awareness of work place health and safety for bee keepers and those who are interested in taking up the hobby.

“I think it makes no difference if you’re a commercial or a hobbyist beekeeper, my advice is to be prepared for a worst case scenario. Always have an emergency plan and make sure your first aid kit is equipped for any sticky situation your bees might throw at you,” Mr Cannon said.

“I’d recommend talking to your chemist about a Medihaler, which is like an inhaler for asthmatics, or having a chat to an immunologist if you’re not sure about what you should have in your first aid kit, especially if you are working in isolated places. 

“If you find your reactions might be getting worse I suggest going through a desensitisation course through an allergy specialist or immunologist.”

If beekeepers believe their colonies are particularly aggressive, Mr Cannon says they should ask their breeder about queens that are less defensive.

“Some races of bees are considerably calmer to work with. If a beekeeper is getting stung a lot, the simplest way to fix it is to change the genetics. Within six weeks of replacing the queen those defensive traits will have completely changed.

“The bees used in Germany are specifically bred for their gentleness. When I was working over there, it was quite common to work around hives in shorts and t-shirts without being stung.”

The Partnership is funded by the Research and Development Corporations for the meat processing, cotton, grains, fishing and livestock industries as well as the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.