Stings by bees, wasps, and hornets are common throughout the United States. Some ants also sting. The average person can safely tolerate multiple bee stings. However, in a person who is allergic to such stings, one sting can cause death due to an anaphylactic reaction (a life-threatening allergic reaction in which blood pressure falls and the airway closes). In the United States, 3 or 4 times more people die from bee stings than from snakebites. A more aggressive type of honeybee, called the Africanized honeybee (killer bee), has reached the southern and some southwestern states from South America. By attacking their victim in swarms, these bees cause a more severe reaction than do other bees.
Generally, insects such as bees and wasps aren't aggressive and only sting in self-defense. In most cases, this results in one or perhaps a few stings. However, in some cases a person will disrupt a hive or swarm of bees and get multiple stings.
If you get stung more than a dozen times, the accumulation of venom may induce a toxic reaction and make you feel quite sick. Signs and symptoms include:
Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Feeling faint or fainting
Multiple stings can be a medical emergency in children, older adults, and people who have heart or breathing problems.
Bee, wasp, and hornet stings cause immediate pain and a red, swollen, sometimes itchy area about ½ inch (about 1 centimeter) across. In some people, the area swells to a diameter of 2 inches (5 centimeters) or more over the next 2 or 3 days. This swelling is sometimes mistaken for infection, which is unusual after bee stings. Allergic reactions may cause rash, itching all over, wheezing, trouble breathing, and shock.
Honey bee stings are known to be very painful, but the symptoms that result from a sting vary, depending on the amount of poison that has entered the immune system of the victim. The initial pain eventually fades, but only after a period of swelling and itching. Some individuals may also experience visible signs, including redness of the skin around the sting. Although the honey bee sting is not commonly hazardous, some people may be allergic to the bee’s venom and will experience such severe side effects as nausea, fainting and, in extreme cases, death.
The numbers of stings also plays a role in the effects. As the number of stings increases, the severity of reaction also increases and can be lethal to anyone if stung too many times. If a person is stung or has medical concerns related to honey bees, they should seek a medical professional.