When spending time outdoors, it is important to stay aware of your surroundings for bees. Africanized honey bees, in particular, are of concern to people because of their selection of nesting sites and defensive behavior. There are ways to lessen their danger.

Africanized honey bees cannot be distinguished from European honey bees by sight. This term ‘African honey bee’ refers to a single race from southern Africa known as Apis mellifera scutellata. In 1956, researchers in Brazil were experimenting with these bees to improve beekeeping in tropical areas, and they accidentally released some of these African honey bees. They were extremely well suited to the area and began to hybridize with European honey bees. At a spread rate of 200 to 300 miles per year, they entered the United States in 1990 through Texas. As of 2006, they were established in Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Florida. Their spread continues.

If attacked, cover your face and eyes by pulling a shirt over your head. They are defending their nest; you need to get away as fast as possible. Run in a straight line, do not swat at the bees. Seek cover in a car or house. Running through tall grass will help disrupt your image from the bees. Do not jump in a pool. Quickly remove the stinger by scraping it out. Local reactions to bee stings include swelling, pain, itching and redness at the site of the bee sting. Ice packs will reduce swelling at the site, and Calamine lotion will help with local skin reactions.

Any stings in the throat, face or head need to have immediate medical treatment; swelling could be life-threatening. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can slow an allergic reaction, but will not prevent it. Hives, fainting, lightheadedness, dizziness, abdominal pain or cramping, high-pitched breathing sounds, difficulty breathing, mental confusion, rapid pulse, slurred speech, wheezing, fluid in the lungs, low blood pressure, skin that is blue from lack of oxygen or pale from shock, swelling in the throat, swelling of the eyes, face or neck, weakness or severe perspiration signal the need to call 911 immediately. Ask your doctor if you need to carry a bee-sting kit or epinephrine for a possible anaphylactic reaction.

Prevent bee stings by staying away from power equipment, wearing protective clothing and visualizing areas when doing any yard work. Yearly maintenance includes checking the walls and eaves of structures, along with closing openings in walls, chimney, electrical and plumbing gaps that are more than one-eighth of an inch large with a small-mesh hardware cloth or caulking.

For more information, go online to http://www.louisianalegalnurseconsultants.org.

Julie Tullos, RN, BSN, CCM, LNC

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Baton Rouge