I am a beekeeper and I am allergic to bees (full story here). The other week my rightfully-concerned boyfriend sent me an article about a beekeeper in El Cajon, CA who had died from an allergic reaction to a bee sting (read full article here). Michael Christopher Hendricks was a well-regarded youth pastor, husband, father of a two-month old beautiful girl, and he had a heart for bees. Unfortunately, he and I both discovered our allergies the hard way, but I was quite a bit more fortunate and able to walk away.With the ever-growing popularity of beekeeping, I fear cases like this will become more and more common. While some beekeepers recommend being stung a certain number of times in a year, they fail to realize there is a group of people (I'm in this group) who will build up a sensitivity rather than a tolerance to the bee venom. To avoid cases like that of Hendrick’s, I present to you a list of safe beekeeping practices.
- Get testedfor bee venom allergies
- They will perform a blood test in addition to a skin test (see skin test below)
- Even if you don’t think you’re allergic, your level of sensitivity to the venom may be good for you to know
- Get a prescription for an EpiPen
- Even if you don’t think you’re allergic, it is smart to have one around in case you or someone around you develops an allergic reaction
- The shelf life is very short, so be sure to replace yours every 6 months
- Take an antihistamineBEFORE visiting your beehives in case you get stung
- This will help your body to fight off the venom better than taking the antihistamine after the sting has already occurred
- Make sure your bee suit is baggy and not close to the skin
- NEVER beekeep alone
- A lone beekeeper in San Francisco died last year and would have likely lived if someone else had been with him at the time of the sting
- Have your beekeeping partner double-check all potential points of entry for places where bees could sneak in to your suit
- Make sure the ankles of your pants or bee suit are sealed so no bees can crawl up your legs
- Make sure gloves are well-secured and regularly check for holes in the mesh around the wrists and repair if needed
- Veil is completely zipped or tied tight against your body leaving no room for a bee to crawl through
- Check each other for lingering bees before you remove your gear
- Keep calm and carry on
- Bees can sense uncertainty from your pheromones and can be more likely to sting
- Breath deeply and work slowly
My arm after the skin test for insect venom allergies
Following the discovery of my allergy to bee venom, I have been receiving immunotherapy shots for the past year and a half and can now withstand the venom of two bee stings. Regardless, I practice extreme caution when caring for my bees and keep an EpiPen with me at all times.
I hope this posted doesn’t scare anyone away from keeping bees, because it truly is a wonderful hobby, hence the reason I continue to do it despite my allergies. Bees are often very gentle, but we still need to respect that they do have the potential to cause serious injury or in some cases death. And we love our fellow beekeepers and want to keep you all around.
So bee safe!