Wasps and Bees
Stings from wasps or bees can be quite painful and therefore are an object of dread for many people. Multiply stings can be lethal.
The most aggressive stinging insects are vespid wasps and yellow jackets, which aggressively defend their nests. Unfortunately for us, when hiking or biking we may not be aware of a nearby nest and disturbing these nests can make for a very uncomfortable if not dangerous situation. Many people have developed allergic reactions to both bee stings and wasp stings that may trigger an anaphylactic shock that is potentially deadly.
Honey bees rarely sting, except when stepped on or roughly handled. Only when they perceive that they have to be threatened will they actively seek out and sting, but if this happens look out because there may be more than one of them.
It is a misconception that a worker honey bee can only sting once, although the stinger is in fact barbed so that it lodges in the victim’s skin, tearing the stinger loose from the bee’s abdomen, this only happens if the skin of the victim is sufficiently thick such as a mammal.
When they Attack:
Every once and in a while someone disturbs a wasp or bees nest that is close to a trail and it only takes one person to disturb the nest for it to become a danger for every subsequent person who passes. When approaching a nest that is marked as already having been disturbed, be calm and quiet, try not to upset the insects any further, avoid the nest altogether if you can or move away as quickly as possible, run if you can, but do not panic.
If the bees or wasps pursue you, ran as fast as you can. They will only go so far away from the nest, especially if it has been disturbed. If you are near water, jump into it and if you can; submerse yourself.
When a swarm of bees or wasps attack, they can get caught in the folds of your clothing, down through your neck and in the case of wasps they can continue to sting. First get away from the nest then remove the clothing as quickly as possible.
Treatment for a Sting:
The first step in the treatment following a bee or wasp sting is to insure the removal of the stinger itself. This should be done as quickly as possible as the poison continues to flow, the method of extraction does not matter.
Once the stinger is removed, pain and swelling should be reduced with a cold compress. If you are near a lake or stream submerse the stung area in the water for a length of time. The sting may be painful for a few hours. Swelling and itching may persist for up to a week.
The areas should not be scratched as it will only increase the itching and swelling. If the reaction persists for over a week or covers an area greater than 7 to 10 centimetres, medical attention should be sought. At this point Doctors often recommend a tetanus shot.
For people who experience severe or life threatening reactions to insect stings, it is imperative that they do not venture into the wilderness without an Epi-Pen to treat anaphylactic shock. I always carry a strong antihistamine in my first aid kit as I once had a friend of mine who was stung 8 times when she disturbed a nest of wasps. The episode ended our weekend and caused her a great deal of pain for a long time.
X Marks the Spot:
If you do come upon a disturbed nest on a trail, please; for the sake of everyone following behind you; warn other hikers by posting a note or marking the spot any way you can, preferably 3 or more meters before the hikers come upon the hive.