The recent dramatic bee attacks in the Western Cape have raised fresh concerns about the growing trend of urban beekeeping in South Africa.
The recent incident saw more than thirty cyclists participating in a race being attacked by bees from a nearby hive – some riders had as many as 100 stings removed and others who were allergic had to be airlifted to hospital.
Urban beekeeping is growing in popularity among South Africans, particularly with the resurgence of home gardening and sustainable living, but not everyone is excited about enthusiasts placing bee boxes in their backyards – especially those with allergies.
Small-scale beekeeping is taking off in many South African suburban backyards and even city roof tops.
Take necessary precautions
“Urban beekeeping doesn’t have to be a scary experience for you and your neighbours, provided the necessary precautions are taken, such as being upfront with your neighbours about your beekeeping endeavours and discussing the benefits, while taking proactive steps to reduce neighbours’ bee concerns. For example, if weather is dry, bees will use a neighbour’s swimming pool as a water source. Erecting a bird bath or other water supply near the beehive entrance will reduce the likelihood of bees becoming a poolside nuisance.
“Also be sure to choose the beehive’s location carefully. Avoid placing beehives near sidewalks or play areas where bee traffic may pose a threat. The urban hive should be tucked into the corner of a yard away from regular human activity. Another precaution urban beekeepers can take is to help direct the flight pattern of their bees by installing a high privacy fence achieving a height where they will not encounter children playing or a neighbour working in a yard. Remember to always wear protective clothing, including a veil and gloves when handling bees,” says Fouche.
Build your skills safely
Urban beekeepers of all experience levels can continue to build their beekeeping safety skills by joining a local beekeeping association and should always adhere to and stay abreast of regulations pertaining to beekeeping in their specific area.
For those who are concerned about their safety and suffer from bee sting allergies, Fouche offers the following advice.
“During the summer we cook and eat outdoors and generally spend more time in the garden, which is their territory. Think about where you plant flowers. If you keep them near doors and windows, bees are more likely to come into your house. Try not to eat sugary foods and drinks outside and avoid wearing strong perfumes. If a bee does approach, don’t scream or lash out to swat it as this will only aggravate it further.
“If stung by a bee a person can get a localised reaction in the form of swelling, heat or itching of the skin around the bite area. If you can see the stinger, remove it as quickly as possible to lessen exposure to the venom. Put an ice pack on the affected area for 15 minutes every few hours or so, which will help to reduce swelling. Oral antihistamines and analgesics might also help to reduce pain or itching associated with skin reactions.
Know what to look out for
“However, in case of a serious systemic allergic reaction, which means the venom causes a reaction throughout a person’s body and not just around the bite itself, the person may break out in hives, experience wheezing, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, faintness and swelling of the face, lips or tongue. If a person has any of these symptoms, it is important to get medical help immediately,” says Fouche.
If you know that you or your child is severely allergic to bee stings, Fouche recommends that you wear a medic alert tag at all times and see your doctor for a prescription for an emergency kit with an adrenaline syringe (Epipen). If used immediately after the first sign of a systemic symptom following a bee attack, this injection will stop the allergic reaction from progressing and could save your life.
“For most varieties of bee stings, antihistamines will help to stop itching and lessen swelling, and no preventive therapy will be necessary. If you are severely allergic to bee stings, talk to a doctor about getting venom immunotherapy (allergy injections) from an allergist to reduce the risk of getting anaphylaxis from subsequent stings.”