Bees, wasp stings more lethal than snakes, jellyfish

Bees, wasp stings more lethal than snakes, jellyfish
Bee and wasp stings may be more lethal and pose the biggest public health threat, rather than snakes, spiders or jellyfish, according to an analysis of all Australia's venomous creatures. The analysis of 13 years' data on bites and stings from venomous creatures shows that Australia's towns and cities are a hot-spot for encounters. Including fatalities, venomous stings and bites resulted in almost 42,000 hospitalisations over the study period.

Bees and wasps were responsible for just over one-third (33 per cent) of hospital admissions, followed by spider bites (30 per cent) and snake bites (15 per cent). Overall, 64 people were killed by a venomous sting or bite, with more than half of these deaths due to an allergic reaction to an insect bite that caused anaphylactic shock. Snake bites caused 27 deaths. Importantly, snake bite envenoming caused nearly twice as many deaths per hospital admission than other venomous creatures, making snake bite one of the most important venomous injuries to address.

Bees and wasps killed 27 people, with only one case of a beekeeper and one case of a snake catcher recorded. Tick bites caused three deaths and ant bites another two. Box jellyfish killed three people. There were two deaths from unknown insects. No spider bite fatalities were registered. Ronelle Welton, from the Australian Venom Unit at the University of Melbourne, said that she was surprised to find so many deaths and hospitalisations up and down the populated coastal areas of Australia.

"More than half of deaths happened at home, and almost two-thirds (64 percent) occurred, not in the isolated areas we might expect, but rather, in major cities and inner-regional areas where healthcare is readily accessible," said Welton, who led the research. Researchers believe one of the reasons that anaphylaxis from insect bites and stings has proven deadly may be because people are complacent in seeking medical attention and anaphylaxis can kill quickly.

While three-quarters of snakebite fatalities at least made it to hospital, only 44 per cent of people who died from an allergic reaction to an insect sting got to hospital. "Perhaps it's because bees are so innocuous that most people don't really fear them in the same way they fear snakes," Welton said. "Without having a previous history of allergy, you might get bitten and although nothing happens the first time, you've still developed an allergic sensitivity," she said.

Western Australia and South Australia were hot spots for stings and bites, and there were no deaths recorded in Tasmania over the decade. Bites and stings were much more likely to occur between April to October. The study was published in the Internal Medicine Journal.
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