A Few Final Points About Stings

"A Pain in the Grass" and "Bee Not (Too) Afraid" [June 22] perpetuated a swarm of tired, old stinging-insect myths.

For the record, wasp stingers have barbs just like those of bees, only slightly smaller. In fact, the stinger of the most common yellow jacket species in this area often becomes stuck in human skin. There is no evidence that wearing bright colors or floral scents puts you at greater risk for stings. And classifying bumblebees and honeybees as "milquetoasts" and "pushovers" is just plain wrong. Both types of insects can mount furious, sustained attacks against any animal, including people, that disturbs their nests.

But by far the most egregious error is the slanderous treatment of the fearsome-looking but inoffensive cicada killer. This sphecid (not vespid) wasp uses its sting to paralyze prey, not to defend its burrow. You'd have to tackle one to get stung. Even more critical is that most cicada killers flying back and forth over lawns and shrubbery are males. They have no stinger.

Albert Greene, PhD

Regional Entomologist

Service Delivery Support Division (WPY)

U. S. General Services Administration


The author of "Bee Not (Too) Afraid" describes a severe allergic reaction and what to do immediately afterward but does not state that there is preventive treatment in case of subsequent stings.

Allergists are able to identify the type of insect venom that caused the severe reaction by allergy skin tests. A small amount of venom is placed under the skin at a dose of one-one thousandth of a natural sting, and if the test is positive it identifies the particular stinging insect. The allergist can then use the specific insect venom to desensitize an allergic individual by giving small amounts of venom on a weekly basis until reaching an amount of venom equal to twice a natural sting. This treatment can decrease the risk of reaction on a subsequent sting from 50 percent to 1 percent. Pretty good results!

Adults with symptoms described in the article are candidates for this type of treatment (difficulty breathing, dizziness, swelling in the throat or tongue, or hives over large parts of the body). In children 14 years and younger, the same criteria hold, except for the hive part. If a child has only hives over large parts of the body, he usually does not qualify for this treatment. Children need more severe symptoms to qualify, such as difficulty breathing or decrease in blood pressure.

Jerry M. Shier, MD

Assistant Clinical Professor

George Washington University

School of Medicine


If Robert Earle continues to cut the grass in sandals, he will have a lot more to worry about than yellow jackets: loss of toes and blood. I hate to see pictures of people mowing in sneakers or sandals, which provide no protection and can be slippery on damp grass. At least use leather shoes, if possible with a steel toe.

John Fay


Dental Health Doesn't Require Floss

"Breaking News: You Still Need to Floss" [June 15] continues the spreading of the myth that the only way to keep healthy gums is the use of dental floss. This is simply not true; oral irrigators have been proven to provide as good or better results.

What works just as well for keeping gums healthy is daily use of an oral irrigator. These devices, especially when coupled with the use of a good rinse, are very effective at keeping gums in good shape.

I am a case in point: I am now over 50 years old. I do not floss, yet have gums in good shape and no periodontal problems. Yet 22 years ago I was in danger of needing extensive periodontal work. My dentist at the time showed me the pictures of people with huge pockets around their gums. He also mentioned the story of the person who needed a mold to be made of his teeth; when the mold was pulled off, several teeth came with it!

This dentist successfully moved me into action to do something about the problem. I had a dentist/dental hygienist combination who believed in the power of using an oral irrigator with Viadent solution. (Listerine should work nearly as well.) The use of the irrigator over these years has stabilized my gums and, in some cases, reduced the gaps. My current dentist can confirm how well the irrigator actually works in practice. Oral irrigators are easy to use correctly. Flossing is not.

Lawrence R. Cooley

Falls Church

For Some, Milk Drugs Are Lifesavers

"Got Milk Drugs" [June 22] refers to domperidone being used for breast feeding mothers, but it fails to mention the use of the medication for patients with gastroparesis.

Gastroparesis is a digestive motility disease of the stomach causing weakness or paralysis of the stomach. Patients suffer with nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, horrible bloating, electrolyte imbalances, to just name a few problems. Since Propulsid was pulled from the market, there are no drugs specific for gastroparesis.

Most newly diagnosed patients are prescribed Reglan, which can cause nasty side effects, so domperidone is the next drug of choice. As patients, we have to order the medications outside of the United States, or from local compounding pharmacies. With the Food and Drug Administration alert, that is going to be impossible. If domperidone cannot be obtained many gastroparesis patients, will be sentenced to a life with feeding tubes or IV nutrition.

I run a support group, and the fear my group is dealing with at the moment is making those with digestive tract problems even worse off. While I understand the Food and Drug Administration's concern, the gastroparesis population is going to suffer horribly without the only medication that has had some good results.

Bethellen Coughran

Brownstown, Mich.