In 2000 the Government of NSW conducted an inquiry into beekeeping in urban areas (INQUIRY INTO BEEKEEPING IN URBAN AREAS. Government of NSW. (2000) http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/116596/inquiry-urbanbeekeeping.pdf). Health concerns were one of the areas the inquiry looked into. It concluded:
Usually, there are only one or two people per annum who succumb to bee venom allergy in Australia.
From figures extracted from the Australian Bureau of Statistics years ago, you are more likely to die from being struck by lightning than from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, and less likely to be taken by a shark. Penicillin allergy caused more deaths than bee venom during the time I surveyed. A more recent analysis is about to be published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Many other insects can induce allergic reactions. Yellow jacket (European wasps) stings are more common in Victoria, than in New South Wales, due possibly to their wider distribution in that state. Paper wasp venom allergy is less common than bee venom allergy in this state. Jumper ants are a more worrying cause of anaphylaxis, as there is no commercially available vaccine currently, a situation largely due to funding cuts. Other ants, March and horse flies, mosquitoes, midges, etc can also induce allergic reactions. People sensitive to these insects have no vaccine to overcome their allergy at present.
Risk to humans posed by bee stings
Human reactions to beestings range from the very mild and transient to fatal. The vast majority of reactions reported are immunological in nature, and are commonly classed as allergic reactions. Severe toxic reactions to bee venom are reported but are rare in comparison to allergic responses. An overview of bee venom allergy has been provided in Appendix 1 by Dr Sheryl van Nunen, Head, Department of Allergy, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards for this Inquiry.
The risk of a fatal allergic response to a bee sting is very, very low. Allergies to penicillin cause more deaths than bee venom and individuals in Australia have a greater likelihood of being killed by lightning than by bee venom.
Dr van Nunen considers that “ there are only one or two people per annum who succumb to bee venom allergy in Australia.”
In a submission to the Inquiry, Mr Bruce White, Technical Specialist in Apiculture with NSW Agriculture reported that the recent [Year 2000] death in Sydney due to bee stings was only the second known to have occurred in NSW over the last 50 years as a result of stings received from bees from managed beehives. It was also the first recorded fatality in a residential area as a result of stings from bees from managed hives. Most fatalities have occurred as a result of disturbing feral bee colonies.
In Australia, deaths resulting from beestings, while always tragic, are very rare. The risk of death or injury to individuals is statistically far greater in many workplaces or in the pursuit of many leisure, sporting or recreational activities.
The inappropriate or accidental disturbance of feral bees presents a much greater risk to persons than managed bee hives.
Community concern over urban beekeeping is much broader than the analysis of real risk to human life identified would indicate. These concerns relate to nuisance.
As evidenced in the NSW inquiry:
• The risk of serious injury or reaction from a bee sting is extremely low
• Feral bees present a greater risk to people than managed bee hives