Africanized honey bees, or killer bees, pose a significant public health threat in South America, Central America, Mexico and the southwest United States. In the country of Brazil, where American killer bee populations originated over 70 years ago, nearly 14,000 killer bee incidents occurred during 2015, of these incidents, 39 human deaths were recorded. The toxins that are present within killer bee venom can lead to a host of severe medical conditions, many of which are life threatening. Killer bee venom is unique in that it causes sting victims to sometimes develop lesions on their internal organs. For example, a 13 year old developed a condition that entails the rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle fibers in response to sustaining 700 stings from killer bees.
The toxic effects of killer bee venom can cause multiple organ dysfunction and even failure in people who sustain numerous stings. Although all honey bee venom has the potential to cause this effect if doses are high enough, Africanized honey bee stings are almost always the cause of multiorgan dysfunction in sting victims. After falling victim to a swarm of killer bees, the 13 year old boy developed intense swelling in his upper body. Tests showed that the boy developed a life-threatening condition known as “rhabdomyolysis” in response to the numerous stings that he sustained. This condition sees the rapid breakdown of muscle fibers, and consequently, the dead muscle debris makes its way into the bloodstream, often resulting in interrupted kidney and liver functioning or possible kidney or liver failure. This condition was also documented in 5 people who sustained numerous Africanized bee stings in Brazil. Despite receiving aggressive multi-drug treatments, three of the five patients died nearly 24 hours after sustaining the stings. Unfortunately, there does not yet exist any reliable antivenom or specific therapy to address massive envenomations by killer bees.
Do you actively fear falling victim to Africanized bee attacks?