Thomas Mizell, an 81-year-old resident of Tarkington Prairie, Texas, is lucky to be alive. He certainly wouldn’t be if he was one of the estimated 5 percent of humans with bee venom allergies.
According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, Mizell was helping his cousin clear farmland for a fence when his bulldozer seemingly disturbed a hive of honey bees. He was quickly swarmed by what he described as a “black cloud of bees” that began stinging him all over his body.
“I jumped off the dozer, which happened to be in neutral. I left it running and took off through the woods, trying to make my way to a little lake I had dug on the property,” he told the paper.
Fighting against the pain and feeling his heart racing in his chest, Mr Mizell struggled to get himself into the water. Even after submerging himself, he reported still hearing the sound of bees, a phenomenon likely caused by the insects that had crawled into his ear canal. (It was later found that his eardrum had burst.)
After several minutes, the vegetable stand proprietor peeked his head out of the water and saw his wife and son pulling up in their car, serendipitously arriving to check on him, but the bees were still circling in a frenzy. He recounted that he ran toward them as fast as possible, collapsing as he reached the vehicle. His family sustained multiple stings as they loaded him in and sped away to the nearby Cleveland Emergency Hospital.
The last thing Mizell remembers is being given a large dose of Benadryl, a brand of the antihistamine medicine diphenhydramine. His daughter Trisha told the Houston Chronicle that his blood pressure was through the roof by the time he arrived in the ER. Once he was stable, nurses began removing the 1,000-plus stingers embedded in his flesh.
No one has been able to confirm what kind of bees attacked Mr Mizell so aggressively, but nearly every time such an event occurs, the media is quick to point the finger at Africanized honey bees.
These so-called “killer bees” are a hybrid of the European and African subspecies of the widespread Western honey bee, artificially cross-bred in the 1950s by a Brazilian scientist. He had hoped to create a lineage of bees with the rapid reproduction rate and hot climate tolerance of the African population and the prolific honey production of the European population. Unfortunately, the resulting insects are poor honey producers. Instead, they are skilled at invading new habitats – they are now found across the southwestern US and continue to spread – and extremely defensive; although their toxin is the same as that of other honey bees, Africanized colonies can be more deadly to other animals because they sting with a frenzy following minor provocation.