The time-honored advice for taking care of bee stings, quoted faithfully in medical texts and first-aid manuals everywhere, is wrong, according to a study published in the current issue of the Lancet, a British medical journal.
This challenge to tradition concerns the proper way to remove the stinger, or, as entomologists prefer to call it, the sting.
Honeybees nearly always leave the stinger embedded in the victim, pumping venom into the wound, and the fact that the bee rips off its hind end in the process and dies is small consolation for the pain it inflicts.
The standard recommendation has long been to scrape or tease the stinger out of the skin carefully with the edge of a knife blade or fingernail and never to pinch it.
That might seem logical enough; a venom sac is still attached to the back end of the stinger, and it does look as if squeezing the sac would squirt more venom into the wound.
"It was thought to be like squeezing the bulb of an eyedropper or a turkey baster," said Richard Vetter, an entomologist at the University of California at Riverside and one of the study's authors.
It was their own experience with bees that led Vetter and two other entomologists, Dr. P. Kirk Visscher, also of Riverside, and Dr. Scott Camazine of Pennsylvania State University, to question the established wisdom. Longtime beekeepers, each has been stung thousands of times, and it seemed to them that speed mattered more than style.
Visscher and his colleagues reasoned that if a person could pluck out the stinger before all the venom was pumped out, a smaller, less painful welt might result.
Fifty stings later, the researchers had shown that time was of the essence; the longer the stinger stayed in, the bigger the welt.
Finally, the scientists compared methods of stinger removal: the medically correct scraping technique vs. the heretofore forbidden grab-and-yank.
Visscher and Vetter allowed honeybees to sting them, 20 times each, and compared the two methods of stinger removal. They found no difference in welt size.
Dr. David Golden, an allergist and assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the new study helps to resolve a long-time debate, but he cautioned that the data also confirmed other researchers' work showing that the venom is pumped out so quickly that a person must react almost instantaneously.
Pub Date: 8/07/96