Honeybee Stings in the Era of Killer Bees: Anaphylaxis and Toxic Envenomation

Published:November 09, 2019DOI:



      Twenty-six years after the arrival of “killer bees” in Arizona, the entire state with the exception of high elevations in the north is populated with this bee variety and 11 people have died at the scene of massive bee attacks.


      Because of the aggressive behavior of these bees we studied bee stings reported to the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center. The center received 399 calls regarding 312 victims of bee stings from January 2017 to June 2019. Calls originated from private residences and emergency centers.


      Stings occurred at victims’ home residences in 272 (84.7%) of cases and 24 (7.5%) in public areas; 251 people suffered 1 sting; 42 individuals, 2-10 stings, 4 had 11-49 stings, and 13 individuals had >50 stings (so-called massive stinging). Three individuals were admitted to intensive care units (ICU) and one 35-year-old man died of anaphylaxis after 1 sting; moderate clinical effects occurred in 32 individuals including 6 admitted to the hospital but not in the intensive care unit. Anaphylaxis occurred in 30 (9.6%) of individuals, 16 receiving 1 sting. Toxic effects, tachycardia, elevated creatinine, or rhabdomyolysis occurred in 13 (4.2%) individuals.


      In the past, individuals stung more than 50 times were beekeepers working with European honeybees, whereas, in the current era, single as well as massive stings are the result of feral “killer bees.” This change in epidemiology requires a new approach to sting victims: those with massive stinging should be evaluated and observed for anaphylaxis and serial laboratory values obtained for days to detect the toxic effects of envenomation.


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