Snakes? Spiders? Jellyfish? Nope. Australia's most dangerous animal is the bee

Snakes? Spiders? Jellyfish? Nope. Australia's most dangerous animal is the bee


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Australia's most dangerous venomous creature is not a snake or a spider, nor even a jellyfish.

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Australia's most dangerous venomous creature is not a snake or a spider, nor even a jellyfish.

It's the bee and other stinging insects that pose the biggest public health threat, according to an analysis of more than a decade of Australian bites and stings.

The University of Melbourne study, published in the Internal Medicine Journal on Tuesday, found that it was bees and other insects such as wasps that often had the most dangerous effect on a person once bitten or stung.

The analysis of 13 years' data found that, including fatalities, venomous stings and bites resulted in almost 42,000 hospitalisations.

Bees and wasps were responsible for 33 per cent of those hospital admissions, followed by spider bites (30 per cent) and then snake bites (15 per cent).

Snakes such as the taipan were to blame for half as many hospitalisations as bees and wasps. Photo: Cath Bowen

Snakes such as the taipan were to blame for half as many hospitalisations as bees and wasps. Photo: Cath Bowen

Overall, 64 people were killed, with more than half of these deaths due to an allergic reaction to an insect bite that caused anaphylactic shock.

The study found that snake bites resulted in 27 deaths. Between them bees and wasps killed another 27 people.

According to the analysis, tick bites caused three deaths and ant bites resulted in an additional two deaths. The box jellyfish killed three people.

Two people died from an unknown insect bite and no spider bite fatalities were registered.

Spiders such as the Sydney funnel web spider have caused no deaths in the survey period. Photo: Ben Rushton

Spiders such as the Sydney funnel web spider have caused no deaths in the survey period. Photo: Ben Rushton

Report author Dr Ronelle Welton said she was shocked to discover so many deaths along populated coastal areas of Australia where healthcare is accessible.

She thinks that one of the reasons that anaphylaxis from insect bites was deadly could be because people are complacent in a way they are not with creatures such as snakes.

While three-quarters of people who died from snakebites made it to hospital, she said, only 44 per cent of people who died from an allergic reaction to an insect sting got to a hospital.

"Perhaps it's because bees are so innocuous that most people don't really fear them in the same way they fear snakes," Dr Welton said in a statement.

"Without having a previous history of allergy, you might get bitten and although nothing happens the first time, you've still developed an allergic sensitivity."

Dr Welton said national guidelines for treatment of stings and bites was "inadequate" and needed to be updated.

"From a public health perspective, we can't make informed decisions until we have a much clearer picture about what's going on," she said in the statement.

  • This article was first published on The Age
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