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How to handle bees

Mar 13, 2013
The Emergency Services Department receives quite a number of calls about bees that pose a risk or danger in the Tshwane area. Where people are attacked by bees, the Department will only respond to incidents where lives are in danger. The Municipality is only responsible for the removal of bees on sidewalks and municipal land.

Home and business owners are responsible for removing bees on their property at their own cost. Children must be taught to neither play with nor provoke bees, and to keep a safe distance or stay indoors once a swarm of bees is visible in the direct vicinity. Bees are very active during the day and more relaxed at night. It is therefore easier for emergency services or bee catchers to remove bees at night to prevent attacks on people.

The Department would like to inform and educate the community on the behaviour of honey bees and how to respond and react if you are caught in a "bee" situation.

A new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees, a process called swarming. In the prime swarm, about 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen. This swarm can contain thousands to tens-of-thousands of bees. Swarming is mainly a spring phenomenon, usually within a two- or three-week period, depending on the locale, but occasional swarms can happen throughout the producing season. Swarming is a natural means of reproduction for honey bee colonies.

Swarm behaviour

A swarm of bees sometimes frightens people, though the bees are usually not aggressive at this stage of their lifecycle. This is principally due to the swarming bees' lack of brood (developing bees) to defend and their interest in finding a new nesting location for their queen. This does not mean that bees from a swarm will not attack if they perceive a threat; however, most bees only attack in response to intrusions against their colony.

Swarm removal

Encountering a bee swarm for the first time can be alarming. Bees tend to swarm near their hives or honeycombs – if a swarm is visible, then a nest is nearby. Swarms are usually not aggressive unless provoked, so it is important to keep a good distance from the swarm. If the bees feel threatened, they will use their stingers and release a pheromone to alert the other bees of the threat, resulting in a large bee attack. Do not try to chase them away by using force or toxic spray agents. Only professionals know how to treat or remove a swarm of bees and would most likely do that at night when it is safe to do so.

Treatment for a bee sting
Remove the stinger: Scrape it out gently with a fingernail, the edge of a credit card or by wiping gauze over it. Don't squeeze the sac, use tweezers or pull on the stinger. Act swiftly and stop the stinger from pumping venom into the skin.

Control swelling
• Put ice on the area.
• If you are stung on your arm or leg, elevate it.
• Remove any tight-fitting jewellery from the area of the sting. As it swells, rings or bracelets might become hard to get off.

Treat symptoms
•  For pain, take an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Do not give aspirin to anyone under the age of 18.
• For itchiness, take an antihistamine. You can also apply calamine lotion or a mixture of baking soda and water.

Look for symptoms of an allergic reaction; these include –
• difficulty breathing;
• hives that appear as a red, itchy rash and spread to areas beyond the sting;
• swelling of the face, throat or mouth tissue;
• wheezing or difficulty swallowing;
• restlessness and anxiety;
• rapid pulse; and
• dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure

If the symptoms are present, seek emergency medical attention. Take an antihistamine as soon as possible and be ready to use the epinephrine part of an emergency allergy kit, if it has been prescribed in the past.

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