What should I do if I am attacked by killer bees?

Michael Levine, MD, is a medical toxicologist at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center in Phoenix, Ariz.

Question: I’ve been hearing a lot about killer bees in the Valley. What should I do if I am attacked by bees?

Answer: The so-called “killer bees,” or Africanized honeybees, were originally accidentally released from Brazil nearly 50 years ago. Since that time, the bees have been migrating north. Today, most bee hives in Arizona have been colonized by the so-called killer bees.

These bees tend to be much more aggressive than their non-Africanized counterpart. While the individual sting does not substantially differ from the typical honeybee, the Africanized bees tend to attack in large swarms, especially if they feel threatened.

Some people have tried to jump in a body of water, such as a swimming pool. However, the killer bees have been known to wait above the water for the victim to re-surface, and then attack again. Thus, jumping into a body of water is unlikely to prove beneficial.

As a general rule, a person will not be able to out-run these aggressive bees. The killer bees have been known to chase victims over large distances, and can fly relatively fast.

If you are attacked by killer bees, the most important thing to do is protect your face and run indoors or get into a vehicle. Certainly, the bees that are on a person will stay on the person once they enter a house, but the swarm will not typically follow someone indoors. It is important to call 911 if someone is being attacked by a large swarm of bees. The fire department carries a special solution they can spray on the bees to get the bees to disperse.

In the absence of an allergy to bees, a few stings may be painful, but is unlikely to be harmful; it will take many stings to make you ill. Patients who are stung by many bees should seek medical evaluation. If you are allergic to bees, you should have an EpiPen with you at all times when you are outdoors.

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