Wasps and Sting Prevention

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Public health and wasp sting prevention

Wasp stings can be classed as a public health issue as they cause ill health on a large scale and death on a small scale. Any such death is clearly preventable and premature, sometimes losing many years of family, and work, life. Wasp stings also result in unnecessary and high costs to health services.

The level of serious systemic allergy to wasp stings is not known but some estimates put it quite high. A way imagining the level of allergy is to think of the staff and pupils of a large primary school (or any similar sized group of people e.g. a factory workforce) where there may be one seriously allergic person. So - in a medium to large sized town on a pleasant summer weekend afternoon there may be at least one person barbecuing, picnicking, walking in the park or eating ice-cream that could become very ill if stung by a wasp. Fortunately, most of the stings that happen in such situations are to people who are not seriously allergic.

In England, in 2004, the chances of dying from a wasp sting were less than 1 in several million as there were 8 deaths from wasp stings. The comment “More chance of winning the lottery than being killed by a wasp!” is mathematically (i.e. statistically) correct.

The cost of wasp stings to the health service is high: out of hours emergency services and GP practices are flooded with people concerned about stings for several months of the year. Concerns include swelling in the mouth and throat from swallowing a wasp, swollen eyelids from facial stings, constricted blood flow from tight rings on a swollen finger, and infection at the site of a sting (perhaps due to scratching). Carrying adrenalin for self injecting when you have only experienced a significant local reaction is unnecessary and not carrying such equipment if you are systemically allergic could prove fatal.

Public health is compromised by the following:

  • High level of risky behaviour
  • Unknown level of serious allergy 
  • High level of stings to mouth, face and neck
  • High level of occupational health risk
  • Extreme risk to life from multiple stings from wasp nest disturbance
  • Increase in wasp populations with global warming

How to prevent and treat wasp stings should be common knowledge and not accessed through internet searching after a sting occurs.  Although there is some excellent advice on treatment available on the internet, some of it is poor quality being incomplete, muddled with advice on bee stings, tick bites and insect bites or little more than folklore.