Clinical consequences of toxic envenomations by Hymenoptera

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Many familiar Hymenoptera are brightly colored and can sting painfully–thus, their threat and clinical importance may be exaggerated. Most stinging insects only sting to defend themselves or their colonies from predators. The clinical nature of Hymenoptera envenomations contrasts that of other venomous animals, including other arthropods, primarily because allergic reaction, not direct intoxication, is the usual main concern. This review focuses mainly on the clinical features of direct toxicity to Hymenoptera envenomations, which can induce a high incidence of acute renal failure, liver failure, multiple organ failures, and death. Toxic mass envenomations by honeybees usually entail many hundreds or more stings per victim. In contrast to honeybee toxic envenomations, hornet sting envenomations can be clinically threatening with only 20–200 stings needed to cause kidney and other organ failures. Many lethal envenomations by honeybees occur in rural areas in the New World and Africa and are not recorded or documented. In contrast, deaths by hornets occur mainly to Asia. The most frequent and important envenomating taxa are honeybees, hornets, yellowjacket wasps, paper wasps, fire ants, and jack jumper ants. Occasional envenomating taxa include bumblebees, bullet ants, harvester ants, solitary wasps, solitary bees, and various ants of lesser clinical importance. Envenomations by Hymenoptera usually can be avoided if one considers that bees, wasps and ants “view” us as potential threats or predators, and that with information about the biology of stinging Hymenoptera, humans can minimize adverse incidents.Graphical abstractHighlightsStings by Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, and ants) sometimes induce dangerous anaphylactic allergic reactions.Toxic envenomations can occur in patients stung by dozens to thousands of insects at one time.Although rare in comparison to allergic reactions, toxic envenomations represent a truly life-threatening clinical situation.Toxic envenomations often cause long hospitalizations involving kidney and other organ failures and sometimes death.

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