Stinging swarms of African bees are dangerous to everybody, but some people, including President George Bush, are so allergic to the venom of common insects in the U.S. -- including wasps, hornets and yellow-jackets -- that even one sting might prove fatal. Health officials say about 50 people die annually from stings.
Allergists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine believe that many more than the 10 to 15 percent of Americans who already know they are vulnerable may actually be allergic. While treatment with the offending venom may de-sensitize a person at risk, most people do not seek attention until after one bad episode. Bush undergoes immunotherapy, a common preventive treatment in which the allergic person gradually receives increasing doses of the allergy-producing substance, thereby making the immune system less sensitive.
Venom-sensitive people often carry physician-prescribed kits containing easily administered shots of adrenalin and antihistamines in case of a sting. Adrenalin is the treatment of choice for a sting reaction, but the reaction sometimes occurs so quickly that there is not time to get the victim to a hospital.
Allergic symptoms, which may include anaphylactic shock, a potentially fatal reaction, often appear within minutes. They can include hives, nausea, swelling, difficulty breathing, coma and death if treatment is not prompt. Sensitive people may get one "warning" sting in which symptoms are not life-threatening. However, the next episode will be worse and possibly fatal.