A woman has died after undergoing an alternative acupuncture treatment which used live bee stings instead of needles. The Independent reports that the 55-year-old had been receiving the "apitherapy" treatment approximately once a month for two years, in an attempt to treat tight muscles and stress. But during one session, the unnamed woman, who lived in Spain, “developed wheezing, dyspnea, and sudden loss of consciousness immediately after a live bee sting.” Although she was taken to hospital and given adrenaline and antihistamines in an attempt to stop the reaction, she died several weeks later after suffering from multiple organ failure.
"Apitherapy", also known as “bee acupuncture” involves a practitioner placing a bee somewhere on a patient’s body. The report says they pinch the insect’s head until the sting emerges. The creatures die shortly afterwards. Proponents claim it is effective at treating various diseases and alleviating pain. "We've treated patients with dozens of diseases, from arthritis to cancer, all with positive results," Wang Menglin, a bee acupuncturist, was quoted in 2013 as saying.
The report says the technique is most popular in China and Korea and despite little evidence of its effectiveness, the technique has been introduced elsewhere.
Reporting on the lady who died, scientists Paula Vazquez-Revuelta and Ricardo Madrigal-Burgaleta, from the Ramon y Cajal University Hospital in Spain, wrote: “Although some benefits of apitherapy have been reported, published evidence of its effectiveness and safety is limited."
Although the woman had been receiving the treatment for a couple of year, the pair said that "repeated exposure to the allergen was found to carry a greater risk of severe allergic reactions than in the general population."
They concluded: “The risks of undergoing apitherapy may exceed the presumed benefits, leading us to conclude that this practice is both unsafe and unadvisable."
The report says a separate review of apitherapy, found that adverse effects were common, including “trivial skin reactions that usually resolve over several days to life-threatening severe immunological responses such as anaphylaxis”. It reported on another other fatal case, that of a 65-year-old South Korean woman who died in 2011.
Objective: The safety of bee venom as a therapeutic compound has been extensively studied, resulting in the identification of potential adverse events, which range from trivial skin reactions that usually resolve over several days to life-threating severe immunological responses such as anaphylaxis. In this systematic review, we provide a summary of the types and prevalence of adverse events associated with bee venom therapy.
Methods: We searched the literature using 12 databases from their inception to June 2014, without language restrictions. We included all types of clinical studies in which bee venom was used as a key intervention and adverse events that may have been causally related to bee venom therapy were reported.
Results: A total of 145 studies, including 20 randomized controlled trials, 79 audits and cohort studies, 33 single-case studies, and 13 case series, were evaluated in this review. The median frequency of patients who experienced adverse events related to venom immunotherapy was 28.87% (interquartile range, 14.57–39.74) in the audit studies. Compared with normal saline injection, bee venom acupuncture showed a 261% increased relative risk for the occurrence of adverse events (relative risk, 3.61; 95% confidence interval, 2.10 to 6.20) in the randomized controlled trials, which might be overestimated or underestimated owing to the poor reporting quality of the included studies.
Conclusions: Adverse events related to bee venom therapy are frequent; therefore, practitioners of bee venom therapy should be cautious when applying it in daily clinical practice, and the practitioner’s education and qualifications regarding the use of bee venom therapy should be ensured.
Jeong Hwan Park, Bo Kyung Yim, Jun-Hwan Lee, Sanghun Lee, Tae-Hun Kim
[link url="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/woman-dies-acupuncture-therapy-live-bee-stings-needles-spain-investigation-jiaci-stress-a8264886.html"]The Independent report[/link]
[link url="http://www.jiaci.org/revistas/vol28issue1_6-2.pdf"]Journey of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology article[/link]
[link url="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4440710/"]PLOS One abstract[/link]