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NEWS | June 8, 2009

Critical Days of Summer: All the buzz about stinging insects

By Master Sgt. Lynard Slaton II 87th Air Base Wing Ground Safety NCOIC

(This is the second in an occasional series of articles highlighting safety issues during the "Critical Days of Summer.")

Venomous stinging insects include bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets. Activity of these insects can occur from early spring to late fall, with the most aggressive activity occurring from August until October.

Bumble bees, wasps/hornets and yellow jackets can sting multiple times, and some stinging insects, such as the honey bees, have a barbed stinger that is left in you with the venom sack continuing to pump venom.

Although wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets look nasty, bees are far more dangerous. Bee stings contain more venom than the other insects, and bees are more likely to sting. A person is 42 times more likely to die from a bee sting than a poisonous snake bite. Usually bee/wasp stings only cause death if the person is stung repeatedly or the person is highly allergic to the venom.

Here are some suggestions to keep stinging insects away:

--Limit cooking or eating outdoors during yellow jacket season (late summer to early fall), or put up yellow jacket traps to lure them away from barbecue and eating areas. Most venomous stinging insects are particularly attracted to beer because of the aroma from the hops.

--Do not wear brightly colored, dark and patterned clothes. White/light colors are best. Do not wear scented talcs, perfumes, colognes and other scents, including scented hair spray, suntan lotion, cosmetics, deodorants and shaving lotions.

--Do not sit down on or handle wet towels, washcloths or clothes without first checking to make sure no yellow jackets are drinking the moisture.

--Do not leave food items in uncovered or open containers. Do not drink soft drinks from open containers, wasps may be drinking from inside the can. Use a glass with a lid and a straw.

--Do not hit or swat at bees, wasps or yellow jackets. Squashing a wasp/yellow jacket releases a chemical pheromone (alarm) that signals other wasps and yellow jackets in the area to attack. Yellow jackets will not usually sting a person at rest if they or their nest have not been disturbed or threatened. But, a person's swatting or by the quick movement of their arms or legs may aggravate them.

If a bee or wasp enters your moving car, pull off to the side of the road and stop. Open the windows, and let it exit by itself.

Important Note: If you have any sensitivity to venomous insect stings, you should never attempt any insect control. See your doctor for information and treatment to have on hand to assist you if stung.

If stung, call 911 if you experience any of the following symptoms: difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, wheezing or difficulty breathing, confusion or jumbled thoughts, tightness in the throat or chest, coughing or hoarseness and weakness leading to fainting.

Since bees, yellow jackets, hornets and wasps are all considered to be beneficial insects; insect control should only be done where there is an imminent threat to people or their pets. A simple insecticide is to spray stinging insects with dish detergent mixed with water, which will generally kill insects in six seconds.

In the meantime, bee aware and bee safe.