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Meat Bee Stings Can Be Deadly

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Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2003 12:00 am


Yellow jackets, commonly known as "meat bees," have been a serious problem in the mountain communities the past few months. And this past week, one man found out the foraging worker bees have a painful sting and bite and can cause serious consequences for their victims.

The unidentified man had been looking at real estate in the Lake Arrowhead area with a local agent when he was stung and almost immediately stopped breathing and was unconscious. San Bernardino County Fire Department paramedics were summoned at about 11:30 a.m. last Wednesday morning and the man was transported to Mountains Community Hospital.

A fire department spokesperson indicated the victim was in "very bad shape" following the incident but that they were able to save his life. He was then treated and released at Mountains Community Hospital.

Firefighters throughout the mountain communities have encountered an increased number of calls this year. In fact, two weeks ago, several county firefighters were stung while trying to reach a woman who had been stung.

Dick Parmelee from the Crest Forest Fire Department reports that firefighter/paramedics are reporting an elevated number of calls this year.

"We've had quite a few," Parmelee stated, "and the people cutting down trees encounter them all the time. I personally removed four nests from my home."

Parmelee revealed that a couple of years ago, a Crestline man was stung on the hand and collapsed and died despite efforts to revive him. "And he had apparently never been allergic to stings prior to that fatal incident," he added.


"There is no truth to the rumor that the U.S. Forest service released yellow jackets this year to help kill the bark beetle," according to Tricia Abbas, spokesperson for the San Bernardino National Forest. "Our entomologist knows absolutely nothing about such a program. We've received several calls but have assured everyone that there is no such program administered by the Forest Service."

Errin Jackson from Kris Terminates Pests in Crestline explained their employees are finding and removing an increased number of nests this year. "We're finding a nest at almost every home we're going to," Jackson added.

Arrowhead Lutheran Camp in Crest Park reports having to have countless nests removed from their site because of the large increase in campers getting stung. "One week San Bernardino County Vector Control removed 14 nests from our facility," executive director Sherri Arterburn reported. "We probably had the largest number of stings since 1990 when I became affiliated with Arrowhead Lutheran Camp. Our nurse even kept extra medicine kits available at $80 a dose to make sure we could take care of our campers.

"It's been a major problem," Arterburn stated. "The skimmer in our pool had to be cleaned additional times outside of our normal maintenance schedule because there were always so many dead yellow and black meat bees."

Weather is a factor in the current invasion of meat bees. Mild winters in the mountain communities allowed more queens to survive and set up new nests in the spring. This time of year is also when the worker yellow jackets turn more assertive in their quest to obtain protein to stock the queen's winter nest. The workers aggressively go after soft drinks, fish, sandwiches, hamburgers, and even human skin - anything that resembles meat or sugar for the nest.

All yellow jackets or meat bees make pests of themselves in virtually the same manner. They hover in and around drinks and food and, when they land, will try to grab pieces of food with their mandibles. The mandibles are frequently used to bite humans, but the venom is contained only in the stinger. Meat bees, unlike honeybees, which normally sting once and leave their stinger, can sting repeatedly.

"One sting is enough to kill a hypersensitive human being," according to a U.C. Berkeley entomologist. "Fifty to 75 stings are enough to kill a normal human," George Poinar stated. The entomologist did offer one bit of good news for mountain residents. "The meat bees should begin to die off soon as the weather turns colder."

Meat bees found in the mountain communities are anywhere from 5/8 to an inch long and are black and yellow and nest anywhere: forest edges, meadows, hedges, and gardens. They usually can be found nesting in the ground or at ground level in fallen logs, tree stumps or rodent tunnels. Their nests are similar to the paper wasps, building paper cylinders from chewed organic materials and utilizing sticky saliva to mold the cylinders together in organized cells.

Pest control experts advise that to avoid stings, residents should:

€ Not wear perfume or other scented products outdoors

€ Never swat at bees and yellow jackets

€ Avoid walking barefoot on lawns

€ Keep waste receptacles covered

€ Remove food sources such as moist pet foods, fallen fruit and soft drinks Medical experts recommend:

€ Extremely allergic people should carry an emergency kits provided by a doctor

€ Mildly allergic people should take an antihistamine

€ Scrape off the stinger with your fingernail or a knife

€ Wash the area with soapy water or alcohol

€ Apply a paste of baking soda or meat tenderizer and water

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