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article imageElderly Texas couple killed by swarm of bees

By Kim I. Hartman     Apr 21, 2011 in Environment
Hebbronville - An elderly Texas couple was killed after a swarm of bees attacked them while they sprayed insecticide into an unused fireplace where the bees had built a hive. Also injured was their 67-year-old son, who suffered multiple stings to his head and face.
"William “W.T.” Steele, 95, his wife Myrtle, 92, and their son Richard were cleaning the small house they own on ranch land near Jones Ranch, a hunting area in Jim Hogg County, their daughter-in-law Judy Steele," told the Valley Morning Star, when the accident happened. "She said her father-in-law must not have realized how large the beehive was."
According to Judy Steele, after the attack occurred her husband, who was outside of a cellphone service area, was able to drive a short distance to find a phone to call for emergency services.
Jim Hogg Sheriff’s deputies Reyes Espinoza and Diaz Morales, who were the first officers to respond to the scene said, "It took approximately 20 minutes to reach the Steele's property and from there the ranch house was about 15 miles from the road."
Espinoza told the Valley Morning Star "that they arrived without any special uniform to protect them from bee stings. With the help of the Steele's son Richard, they were able to locate Myrtle Steele alive inside the home. We were getting stung in the process, but we were able to place a blanket over her and take her to an awaiting ambulance — we did what we could,” he said.
Espinoza stated that he and Morales returned to the home, to search for the husband who they were able to locate, but he had already succumbed to the poisonous bee venom from the hundreds of stings he received, and was pronounced dead at the scene.
"Myrtle Steele was airlifted to a Corpus Christi hospital, about 100 miles away, where she died Tuesday, Judy Steele said, adding her mother-in-law had been stung more than 300 times."
"Both W.T. and Myrtle were healthy and active people," before the deadly bee attack. “My husband feels terrible,” Judy Steele said. “He feels that he didn’t do enough to help his parents.” She added, “We thank the Good Lord that they died together.”
Reuters reports Espinoza said, "The bees swarmed deputies when they arrived at the scene on Monday. By the grace of God, we didn't get hurt. You could literally scoop them off of us."
Espinoza said "They were likely Africanized honey bees."
"Africanized Honey Bees are hybrids from swarms originally introduced to Brazil from Africa, which absconded in the 1950s. They spread north through South and Central America, crossing into south Texas in 1990, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
The Africanized Honey Bee and the familiar European honey bee look the same and their behavior is similar in some respects, but Africanized Honey Bees are more aggressive. Each bee can sting only once, however, Africanized honey bees are less predictable and more defensive than European honey bees
The Houston Beekeepers Association says a small percentage of people are allergic to the venom produced by Africanized Honey bees (AHB), which is the same venom as the European honey bees produce. The difference is the Africanized honey bees are extremely defensive and greater numbers from the hive will participate in an attack.
"When a bee stings the stinger stays in the skin and, as the bee flies away, it suffers a fatal wound as its intestines pull out. Thus, when a bee stings, its life ends. This is true for AHB's as well as other honey bees. The only exception is the queen bee herself. Queen bees can sting repeatedly, but because they spend most of their lives inside the hive, the odds of you ever encountering a queen are astronomical."
The Beekeepers Association's website said honey bees, including the AHB, normally only sting when protecting the hive. When foraging for nectar they are usually away from the hive, therefore not as aggressive.
The USDA advises untrained individuals against trying to remove swarms. If attacked, individuals should run away quickly and not stop to help others, except for children or the elderly. Do not stop until you have reached shelter or outrun the bees. Remove all stingers from your wounds but not with your fingers as this can cause the release of more venom.
If you have been stung more than 15 times, or are feeling ill, or if you have any reason to believe you may be allergic to bee stings, seek medical attention immediately. More information and safety tips from the USDA can be found here.
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