Is Bee-Sting Acupuncture Safe? Spanish Woman Dies After Apitherapy

A woman in Spain died after undergoing apitherapy, an alternate form of acupuncture where bee stings are used instead of needles to perform the treatment, a recent report claimed.

“Apitherapy is the use of substances from honeybees (eg, honey, propolis, royal jelly, or even venom), to relieve various medical conditions. One type of apitherapy is live bee acupuncture, which involves applying the stinging bee directly to the relevant sites according to the specific disease,” a report published in the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology (JIACI) read.

The American Apitherapy Society Inc. praised bee products, which it claimed “promote healing by improving circulation, decreasing inflammation, and stimulating a healthy immune response.” They also effectively treat pain, wounds, gout, burns, tendonitis, infections and multiple sclerosis, the organization added.

However, when it comes to the controversial treatment of apitherapy, the risks involved often outweigh the benefits.

“In sensitized persons, venom compounds can act as allergens, causing the release of mast-cell mediators and a spectrum of allergic reactions that can range from mild, local swelling to severe systemic reactions, anaphylactic shock, or even death. Furthermore, repeated exposure to the allergen was found to carry a greater risk of severe allergic reactions than in the general population,” the JIACI report said.

Apitherapy A woman in Spain died after undergoing apitherapy, an alternate form of acupuncture where bee stings are used instead of needles. In this photo, Rateb Samur, a Palestinian agronomist-turned-healer, gets a bee to sting a patient under the ear lobe for healing purposes at his private clinic in Gaza City, Nov. 4, 2009. Photo: Getty Images/ Dimas Ardian

The 55-year-old Spanish woman is the latest victim of the dangers of apitherapy. The woman, who had been undergoing the treatment every month for the last two years without any untoward incident, to alleviate her stress, started wheezing and fainted during a recent session.

Emergency services were called in immediately but she was already comatose when she reached the hospital. Although doctors at the facility tried to prevent her condition from deteriorating any further, she died a few weeks later due to multiple organ failure.

The woman did not have any existing allergies or illnesses that could have explained her sudden death.

“To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of death by bee venom apitherapy due to complications of severe anaphylaxis in a confirmed sensitized patient who was previously tolerant,” wrote Paula Vázquez-Revuelta of Ramon y Cajal University Hospital in Madrid, Complex reported. 

Vázquez-Revuelta advised apitherapy practitioners to warn their patients of the possibly deadly side effects of the treatment before administering the therapy. She also added therapists who did not have a medical background need to be trained on appropriate emergency responses in case a patient experiences allergic reactions.

According to the report, things might have turned out differently if the apitherapy practitioner had given the woman adrenaline shot as soon as the symptoms appeared, something she received only after the ambulance arrived, after 30 minutes of struggling to breathe properly

Questionable beauty and health regimes are often endorsed by celebrities, and apitherapy is one of them. In a 2016 interview with the New York Times, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, the creator of Good lifestyle brand, touted the benefits of bee acupuncture.

“It’s a thousands of years old treatment called apitherapy,” she said. “People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring. It’s actually pretty incredible if you research it. But, man, it’s painful.”

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