Allergy to bumblebees

Bumblebees belong to the Apidae family, the same family of the honeybees. A bumblebee species, Bombus Terrestris, has been domesticated and used for about 20 years in Europe to pollinate plants grown in greenhouses. The manifestation of an allergic reaction after a bumblebee sting is much rarer than a honeybee sting. In literature, the only case reports are found in occupational settings.

Can bumblebee stings create problems?
Like honeybees, systematic anaphylactic reactions could arise after a bumblebee sting. Both venoms are very similar, but not the same, for this reason some subjects allergic to honeybee venom can develop a cross-reactive reaction, becoming sensitive to the bumblebee’s venom.

Which treatment can be undertaken in case of allergy?
For direct treatment after a sting, epinephrine (adrenaline) autoinjectors, a substance used to treat anaphylactic shock, are available on the market. This solution can be used in emergency situations, but there are also treatments used to prevent possible shock.
These types of treatments are called Venom Immunotherapy (VIT) and can be designed on wasps, honeybees or bumblebees’ venom. Starting a VIT is recommended for patients that have had several systemic reactions (including respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms) and have a documented sensitization to the respective insect.

Which type of VIT is most recommended?
According to a study (Allergy to bumblebees: de Groot, Hans) published in “Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology: “August 2006 – Volume 6 – Issue 4 – p 294-297” people allergic to bumblebee venom are divided into two categories.

  • The first category is composed by subjects with high cross-reactivity that are non-professionally exposed to bumblebees; for them VIT with honeybee venom is adequate.
  • The second category is composed by subjects that are more exposed to bumblebees, like greenhouse gardeners who use these insects for pollination or scientists studying bumblebees. For this subjects a specific VIT, using purified bumblebee venom, is recommended. In the study mentioned above (Allergy to bumblebees: de Groot, Hans), bumblebee venom VIT (provided by the company “ALK Abello”) has been tested. The efficacy was comparable to honeybee and yellow jacket VIT, with an estimated protection rate of 96%. All patients reached maintenance dose in 6 weeks without
    severe side effects.

In general, there is no need to worry too much about bumblebee stings, they are very docile insects and rarely sting. Greenhouse workers are stung because bumblebees get stuck between the plants and clothes.

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