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The Buzz on Bee Stings

Take precautions if you are allergic, because they could be lethal

SUNDAY, June 10, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- One of the best things about summer is getting the kids out of the house to explore nature's wonders.

The fun can evaporate, however, when those wonders decide to sting.

Fortunately, most bee stings are more annoying than dangerous, but experts say it's important to be able to distinguish between the two. Although stings are inconsequential to most people, those with bee allergies can suffer serious reactions.

Dr. Wesley Burks, professor of pediatrics at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, says signs of a bee allergy are usually easily detectable once a person is stung.

"There would be a lot of redness and swelling at the site, and the swelling could be the size of a golf ball or an orange. Or you could have systemic symptoms, ranging from wheezing and your throat tightening to vomiting and diarrhea."

Burks says the worst cases can be fatal.

"There are adolescents and adults who die each year from stings, because if you have the skin, gastro-intestinal and respiratory symptoms altogether, it can indeed be fatal."

Should any of those symptoms occur, parents are advised to call 911 immediately.

If there is no bee allergy, a sting will typically involve immediate pain at the sting site for about two hours, and a small bump that can remain swollen for about 24 hours.

To prevent stings, one fail-safe approach would be to keep your kids out of flower gardens. But bees may still be attracted to your children if they look or smell like the real thing, with flowery prints or bright colors on their clothing, or if they have a scent of perfumes, scented soaps or hair sprays.

"Bees are definitely attracted to bright colors and scents that are similar to flowers. So yes, they could indeed be lured to buzz around people wearing those," says Dr. Joseph Lopreiato, associate professor of pediatrics at Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.

Bug repellents are widely used to keep bees at bay, but experts say caution should be exercised.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should not use repellents containing any more than 10 percent of the chemical DEET because the chemical is absorbed in the skin and can cause harm.

"Some toxicology studies done several years ago showed that repeated exposure to products with greater than 10 percent DEET on the skin over many days or months can be associated with certain toxicities, especially in children," Lopreiato says.

"So go ahead and use it, but you want to use it sparingly. And it's very important to read the label to make sure you're getting less than 10 percent DEET," he says.

What to Do: Read more about insect hazards in these HealthDay stories. And visit the American Academy of Pediatrics for a full list of Summer Safety Tips.

SOURCES: Interviews with Wesley Burks, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Arkansas Children's Hospital and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Ark.; Joseph Lopreiato, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, Md. Consumer News