Antwerp university hospital has announced the development of a new, faster antidote to wasp stings for those who are allergic to wasp venom. At present, those suffering from an allergic reaction to a wasp sting can be subject to weeks or even months of treatment. But the new antidote promises recovery in only three hours, with a reduction not only in suffering for the patient, but also cost for the health authorities. An estimated 3 to 5% of people have an allergic reaction to wasp venom.
In normal circumstances, a wasp sting produces a painful and inflamed swelling at the site of the sting. Some wasps produce more venom than others, while unlike bees – which die once they have stung once – a wasp can sting many times over.
For someone who is allergic to the venom, meanwhile, the reaction can range from itching and increased swelling all the way to an asthma attack, swelling of the face or tongue, a racing pulse or a sudden fall in blood pressure. In some rare cases, usually involving a sting in the area of the neck, death can result. According to the university, about 150 people die this way across Europe each year.
The new treatment consists of increasing the dose of anti-venom to multiply the effect, reducing the delay of the initial impact to less than three hours. Patients still have to come back for a booster shot on a six-monthly basis, a process which also has the effect of coaching the body, so to speak, into developing its own natural response to the venom.
The treatment is for the time being only available at Antwerp university hospital, and is particularly aimed at people like farmers, horticulturists and fire-fighters, as well as other whose jobs are more likely to bring them into contact with wasps.