What Are Africanized Honeybees?

Last Editorial Review: 1/11/2018

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What are Africanized honey bees?

Doctor's Response

Africanized honey bees are a special species of honey bees that are reportedly moving into the United States from the south.

Africanized honey bees are said to have originally populated this hemisphere in Brazil in the 1950s.

This species of bees has an unusual and dangerous natural defense mechanism when disturbed. For instance, a loud noise or vibration near a hive, such as a barking dog or lawn mower, may cause the bees to display aggressive behavior. They attack in large numbers and for a longer period of than is typical of the common docile honey bee (European honey bee). As a result, Africanized honey bees when they attack inflict more stings, causing a higher dosage of bee venom to be injected into their victims.

The lethal dose of honeybee venom is about 19 stings per kg of body weight (that is 1,300 stings for a 150 pound person). Animals (especially caged ones) as well as humans are at risk.

Healthy people can often outrun the bees; however, the bees may give chase for as much as a quarter of a mile!

Africanized honey bees cannot be eradicated after becoming established in areas. The bees become a normal part of natural life in the environment visiting gardens and traveling flower to flower just as the common European honey bees.

Africanized honey bee stings, like those of common honey bees, can cause local pain, itching, swelling, skin infection. They can also cause allergic reaction with breathing difficulty, heart irregularity, seizures, shock, and death. Serious kidney, muscle, liver, brain, and lung damage can result.

There is no bee antivenom currently available. Prevention and avoidance is key. Eliminate sites of possible colonization (holes, junk piles, etc.). Inspect premises for possible colonization. Self-injectable adrenaline can be carried by persons known to be allergic when in risk areas. Hikers should wear long pants and shirts in risk areas. If attacked run for shelter, covering face to prevent airway stings.

Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms. Stingers should be removed promptly and the area cleansed with soap and water. Ice packs, pain medications, and antiitch medications can be helpful for local reactions. More serious symptoms and multiple sting victims are often hospitalized for observation and treatment. They can require intravenous fluids, oxygen, cortisone medicine, epinephrine as well as medications to open the breathing passages. In very severe reactions, the venom is removed from the blood by plasmapheresis or hemodialysis.

Of note, both Africanized honey bees and European honey bees die after stinging.


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