Lindsay's Apiaries

    Health and Safety

  An article published December 2013
  The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal

 Dealing with bee stings 


Most of us would have read or heard about the truck driver being stung while taking off his bee suit after inspecting the load of hives he was transporting.

McAuleys Transport Ltd in Masterton has been transporting hives and honey supers for Wairarapa beekeepers for the past five years without incident. They have a fully enclosed unit with air conditioning to keep the bees cool and healthy during long transport jobs.

The driver was following the firm’s normal procedure of doing a periodic inspection of the load when the incident happened. He had inspected the load and was taking off his bee suit 50 metres away from the truck when the incident happened; he was stung about the head and neck, which later developed into an allergic reaction requiring hospital care. All the gods were smiling on him that day as a passing ambulance stopped and provided assistance and when his blood pressure dropped, he was airlifted to hospital.

Apparently the replacement driver found the hives and bees in good condition with all systems operating correctly. The bees were unloaded without incident so it’s very difficult to explain what happened. Whether it was bees from the load or externally that attacked him is unknown.

I could only offer the following advice to McAuley’s Transport, which they were already aware of. Wash bee suits regularly, and separately from normal household washing. Shake any bees off and get into the cab before disrobing. With the windows slightly down, the bees will leave within 10 minutes. Some beekeepers have reported that baby wipes will clear the cab within minutes, as the bees apparently don’t like the smell.

Remember that most beekeepers in the course of their careers will suffer some form of serious allergic reaction. In my case, I took a cool shower to ease the itching and rash, but then started feeling faint to the point of collapse (I was on my hands and knees). My vision narrowed to just a slit before I came out of it again—quite scary.

It seems to depend on your health at the time and adverse reactions can happen quite a long time after being stung. I was stung about 9 pm one evening by a bee that must have been in my clothing for most of the day, but I didn’t get a reaction until more than half an hour later. The next day, I was stung again through normal bee work and had no reaction at all. I couldn’t determine why I had a reaction but tiredness might have been a factor.

Be prepared. Have a plan. Keep family members informed of your whereabouts. Keep a special eye on new workers. If you regularly go beyond cellphone range, consider VHF radio or an emergency locator beacon. Be aware that beacons don’t work well in a narrow, high-sided valleys; the satellite may have to be overhead to receive the signal so your signal may not be detected quickly.

[Editor’s note: see page 10 of this journal for an order form that enables NBA members to receive a discount on the Anapen® device. This order form is also available on the members’ section of the NBA website. For more information, refer to the article ‘Anaphylactic shock’ in the October 2013 journal.]

Frank Lindsay