A medical journal has recently raised safety concerns regarding apitherapy, a type of alternative medicine that uses various honey bee products, such as honey, propolis, royal jelly, or even venom.
Bee sting acupuncture, which is a form of apitherapy, involves a therapist holding a honey bee by its head and pinching it until the bee's stinger emerges and punctures the patient's skin. Asian countries such as Korea, China and Japan commonly use apitherapy as an alternative treatment or for aesthetic purposes.
The therapy is known to improve muscular contractures and stress, while also having other therapeutic benefits such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and hair loss. The treatment received spotlight last year after news media reported former President Park Geun-hye regularly underwent the procedure. Hollywood actors, including Gwyneth Paltrow, have also repeatedly touted its effects.
However, the method remains controversial with some journals claiming its therapeutic effects and others arguing there is little evidence to suggest apitherapy can treat any conditions, if at all.
In its latest issue, the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology reported that a woman from Spain died after having an allergic reaction to a “bee sting acupuncture” procedure.
According to the journal, the woman, who had been receiving apitherapy every four weeks for two years, died after having an anaphylactic reaction.
The deceased had no clinical record of any other diseases, other risk factors, previous reactions of any kind with hymenoptera or atopy. However, during the patient's recent apitherapy session, she developed wheezing, dyspnea, and sudden loss of consciousness immediately after the live bee sting. Although emergency responders transferred the woman to the hospital, she died shortly after from multiple organ failures.
“Previous tolerance to bee stings does not prevent hypersensitivity reaction, and repeated exposure could lead to a higher risk of sensitization,” said Professor Paula Vázquez-Revuelta of the allergy department at the Ramon y Cajal University Hospital in Madrid and one of the writers for the journal. “Patients should be fully informed of the dangers of apitherapy before undergoing it.”
Revuelta stressed that apitherapy practitioners should be trained in managing severe reactions and should be able to ensure they perform their techniques in a safe environment, with adequate facilities for management of anaphylaxis and rapid access to an intensive care unit to prevent suboptimal control.
“However, since such measures may not be possible, the risks of undergoing apitherapy may exceed the presumed benefits, leading us to conclude that this practice is both unsafe and unadvisable,” Revuelta added.
In Korea, the same acupuncture method recently made headlines after the police arrested a pastor on child abuse charges for supposedly conducting the bee sting acupuncture procedure on her adopted children. The case is on trial.
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