Updated 01 June 2017

How to survive a bee swarm

What do you do when a swarm of bees heads your way? Memorise these tips for summer.

What do you do when a swarm of bees heads your way? Memorize these tips for summer.

Get out of the way
Bees don’t actually particularly want to sting humans. The act of stinging kills the bee after all. A swarm of bees, even if it’s coming in your direction, doesn’t always mean they’re after you: they could simply be on route to somewhere else. Get out of their way as quickly as possible though, just in case.

Get under cover
Get under cover fast. Going indoors is best, but failing that get into a car or a tent, or cover yourself with a blanket or clothing – especially exposed areas of skin. The face and eyes are the most important areas to protect.

When running away from a swarm, try to run in a straight line, and keep your face as well covered as possible.

Do not, however, get into water, however tempting an option this may appear. The bees know you’re there, and can wait for you at the surface longer than you can hold your breath.

Water can be useful in spray form: if bees are attacking, and you have a hose available, turn it in their direction. But only do this if there’s no other option; you’re still likely to get stung.

Don’t hit bees!
Even when the swarm is passing by, stay calm and still. Don’t hit out at the bees or attempt to "shoo" them away. This could encourage them to sting in self-defence.

There’s an unfortunate pheromonal chain reaction that occurs: if a bee stings, it releases chemicals that then trigger stinging in its mates. For bees, it’s all about individual sacrifice for the good of the community.

Dealing with stings
Once you’ve escaped the main onslaught of the hive, remove any stings as soon as possible. The best way to remove them is to scrape them off using an implement like a butter knife or a credit card. But speed is more important than finding the right implement: pull them out with your fingers if necessary.

Anyone who’s suffered multiple stings should consult a doctor without delay (whether there is a known bee allergy or not). Signs of severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) e.g. difficulty breathing, are a medical emergency.

How to avoid the problem in the first place
Don’t bother bees. If you see or hear a hive, give it a wide berth. Stay alert when you’re out hiking or camping, so you don’t blunder onto a hive by accident. Never try to remove a hive yourself – call in the professional bee handlers.

Bees are more active in warm weather, so be especially vigilant during the summer months. They are also sensitive to vibrations, so avoid any activities near hives that might disturb them.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, updated December 2012

Read more:

Boy dies as bees attack school group


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Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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