Having a beekeeping dad has been life threatening for Stuart Lindsay - he's been hospitalised twice for anaphylactic shock caused by exposure to bee venom.

His father, Frank Lindsay of Wellington, is a commercial beekeeper and Stuart spoke about first aid for beekeepers at the National Apiculture Industry Conference in Wanganui this week.

On Sunday the Palmerston North pharmacist met and hugged his dad, who was among other beekeepers for the occasion. On Tuesday he was still suffering mild allergic symptoms from that contact - his skin was red and he felt itchy.

His job as senior pharmacist at Palmerston North Hospital gives Stuart a good understanding of how a bee sting works.


He was a boy of about 10 years old when it started to become clear he was very allergic to bee venom.

He said beekeepers were often stung through their protective clothing, and the bee venom dried on their clothes. They brought them home for washing, and particles of venom floated off into the air.

By his mid teens he was having severe reactions to bee stings. After one sting he injected himself, took a cold shower, took antihistamines and rang his mother. By the time she got home, five to six minutes later, he was unconscious on a chair.

He said anaphylactic shock felt like a mixture between asthma and extreme hay fever, mixed with fainting. Other people have running noses and feel like vomiting and they have difficulty seeing and breathing.

Attempts to desensitise young Stuart by exposing him to gradually increased amounts of venom failed. Now he has to minimise the risk of being around beekeepers. He carries a syringe and two ampoules of adrenaline, and antihistamine tablets, at all times.

He said allergy was a risk for beekeepers' children. His brother was less allergic than him, but he met other teenagers at beekeepers' conferences who were also extremely allergic. One girl wore a locket with two antihistamine tablets around her neck.

A bee's barbed sting is attached to a sac of venom that is pumped into the body within a minute, he said.

The venom is a complex mixture of proteins. Some cause pain and others dissolve tissue to let substances into the bloodstream.


The body can react by making two sets of antibodies. One set, the usual one when a person gets a full bee sting, blocks the action of the proteins. The other, released when a person is exposed to small amounts of venom over long periods, ramps up the body's reaction to a bee sting.

The best protection for most people, especially beekeepers who may be affected, was to carry an EpiPen auto-injector. They inject adrenaline, cost $145 to $200 and can only be used once. But Mr Lindsay said they were potential life savers.