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Some allergic reactions can trigger a potentially deadly condition known as anaphylaxis. Most anaphylaxis cases are caused by allergic reactions to the bites and stings of insect species. The group of insects that are responsible for most cases of anaphylaxis are hymenoptera insects, which include honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, and many ant species. Yellow jackets and hornets are responsible for a large portion of anaphylaxis cases, but these insect groups are actually wasps. When people die as a result of sustaining numerous stings from bees, wasps or ants, the cause of death is always anaphylaxis, and not envenomation. Around 1 percent of all children and 3 percent of all adults are allergic to hymenoptera stings, and 40 people die annually in the US from anaphylaxis stemming from hymenoptera stings. Surprisingly, most of these deaths involved individuals who had not experienced a previous allergic reaction to an insect sting.

In the US, sting allergies are most commonly due to yellow jackets and honey bees, followed by fire ants and paper wasps. Sting allergies from harvester ants, bumble bees, sweat bees and hornets are less common. All of these insects, with the exception of sweat bees, are social, meaning they leave the nest in order to search for food. The distance traveled in order for these insects to locate food varies, but most allergic responses to hymenoptera stings arise from encountering humans while foraging away from a nest. Since hymenoptera nests contain an entire colony, insects are willing to risk their lives defending the nest from outside threats. This serves as another primary reason as to why hymenoptera insects are responsible for the greatest number of allergic reactions, as these insects may mistake humans as a threat to their nest, especially when humans are in close proximity to nests or accidentally disturb nests. It is worth noting that just because you may not have experienced a noticeable allergic reaction to insect stings in the past, this does not mean that future stings will not result in allergic reactions.

Have you ever suffered an allergic reaction to an insect sting despite not experiencing such a reaction following a previous sting?