Africanized honey bees were imported to Brazil in 1956 to enhance honey production in the tropics. Some of the bees escaped into the wild and have gradually moved towards North America.

Africanized honey bees are the temperamental cousin of the more common European honey bee found in Arizona. They often are called "killer bees", but in reality their stings are less potent and painful than the common bee sting. Contrary to portrayal in the movies, these bees do not swoop down in mass causing death and destruction. They do defend their nesting sites very aggressively, sometimes stinging their victims hundreds of times.

It is impossible for the average person to tell the difference between an Africanized honey bee and the common European honey bee. Only an expert with sophisticated lab equipment is able to distinguish between the two. Those at highest risk are individuals who are allergic to bee stings and pets that are penned or tied up near honey bee hives.

Do's and Don'ts

What to do if you are attacked:

  1. Run as quickly as you can away from the bees. Do not flail or swing your arms at them, as this may further annoy them.
  2. Because bees target the head and eyes, cover your head as much as you can without slowing your escape.
  3. Get to the shelter or closest house or car as quickly as possible. Don't worry if a few bees become trapped in your home. If several bees follow you into your car, drive about a quarter of a mile and let the bees out of the car.

When to call the Fire Department:
Call the fire department only when emergency medical services are needed. If someone has been stung by many bees at once or has an allergic reaction to a bee sting, call 9-1-1. Call the fire department if someone has become trapped in a building or car with lots of bees. Fire trucks are equipped with a foam that can be sprayed on the bees to drown them. DO NOT call the fire department to remove bee colonies or hives. If you want bees removed, look in the yellow pages under "bee removal" or "beekeepers".

How to treat stings from Africanized bees:
Treating stings from Africanized bees is much the same as treating a common bee sting. If a person is stung:

  1. Keep the affected area below the heart
  2. If the sting was by a bee and the stinger is still in the skin, remove it by gently scraping against it with your fingernail, a credit card or a knife. Be careful not to squeeze the stinger. The venom sac still will be attached and you will inject additional venom into the area. Be sure to remove the venom sac.
  3. Apply cold compresses to relieve pain and swelling but do not apply ice directly.
  4. If it becomes difficult to breathe, call 9-1-1. Itching should quit within a few hours. If it persists beyond two days, or if signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction occur after an insect bite you should be seen by a doctor. The signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction include:


    1. Burning pain and itching at the bite site
    2. Itching on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
    3. Itching on the neck and the groin
    4. General body swelling
    5. A nettle-like rash over the entire body
    6. Difficulty breathing
    7. Faintness, weakness
    8. Nausea
    9. Shock
    10. Unconsciousness


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