Even if you live in an area with African honey bees – better known as killer bees – the chances of your getting stung are rare. Killer bees don't look for victims to sting, and swarms of killer bees aren't hiding in the trees just waiting for you to wander by so they can attack. Killer bees sting to defend their nests, and do so aggressively.
If you encounter aggressive bees around a nest or swarm, you are at risk for being stung. Here's what to do if you encounter killer bees:
- RUN! Seriously, run away from the nest or bees as quickly as you can. Bees use an alarm pheromone to alert other hive members of a threat, so the longer you hang around, the more bees will arrive, ready to sting you.
- If you have a jacket or anything else with you, use it to cover your head. Protect your eyes and face if at all possible. Of course, don't obstruct your vision if you are running.
- Get indoors as quickly as possible. If you aren't near a building, get inside the nearest car or shed. Close the doors and windows to keep the bees from following you.
- If no shelter is available, keep running. African honey bees can follow you for as far as a quarter of a mile. If you run far enough, you should be able to lose them.
- Whatever you do, don't stay still if the bees are stinging you. These aren't grizzly bears; they will not stop if you "play dead."
- Don't swat at the bees or wave your arms to fend them off. That will only confirm that you are indeed a threat. You're likely to be stung even more.
- Don't jump into a pool or other body of water to avoid the bees. They can and will wait for you to surface, and will sting you as soon as you do. You can't hold your breath long enough to wait them out, trust me.
If someone else is being stung by killer bees and cannot run away, cover them with anything you can find. Do what you can to quickly cover any exposed skin or susceptible areas of their body, and then run for help as fast as you can.
Once you are in a safe place, use a blunt object to scrape any stingers out of your skin. When an African honey bee stings, the stinger is pulled from its abdomen along with the venom sac, which can keep pumping venom into your body. The sooner you remove the stingers, the less venom will enter your system.
If you were stung just once or a few times, treat the stings as you would regular bee stings and carefully monitor yourself for any unusual reactions. Wash the sting sites with soap and water to avoid infections. Use ice packs to reduce swelling and pain. Of course, if you are allergic to bee venom, seek medical attention immediately.
If you suffered multiple stings, seek medical attention immediately.
- Africanized Honey Bees, San Diego Natural History Museum, accessed March 19, 2010
- Africanized Honey Bees, Ohio State University Extension, accessed March 19, 2010