Insect allergies: more than a nasty sting

From ABC Health and Wellbeing, 24 January 2013:

Think ‘dangerous Australian animals’ and images of snakes, spiders, box jellyfish or even crocodiles come to mind.

But for a small number of people, the bite or sting of relatively benign insects, such as ants, ticks, wasps or bees can be as deadly as any encounter with far more venomous creatures.

Allergic reactions to insect bites or stings are surprisingly common and can be life threatening, says emergency physician Professor Simon Brown, head of the Centre for Clinical Research in Emergency Medicine at the University of Western Australia.

“Of life-threatening allergic reactions [in Australia], about a quarter are due to insects, about a quarter are due to drugs [medications], about a quarter are due to food and about a quarter we can never find a cause for,” says Brown.

Insect allergies kill many more people than food allergies, Brown says, and are a close second to drug allergy in terms of fatal reactions. (Interestingly however, in the case of tick red meat allergies, an insect allergy is linked to the development of a food allergy. For more information see Tick red meat allergy).

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) says on average three people die every year from anaphylaxis caused by insect bites or stings. Brown says this is roughly the same as the number of deaths caused by snake bite. Those most at risk are older people or those with severe breathing difficulties. Read more.

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