While there exists plenty of arthropod species that can inflict painful bites or stings to humans, very few arthropod species are considered medically significant. Almost all medical professionals agree that black widows and recluse spiders are the only spiders in the US that are medically significant, but most people who have sustained a bite from one of these spiders recovered without professional medical intervention. However, a little more than 100 people die from arthropod-related injuries every year in the US, and most of these fatalities result from honey bee and yellow jacket envenomations. But is venom really the culprit in these fatalities? After all, the exact cause of death in the vast majority of fatal wasp and bee envenomation incidents is anaphylactic shock, which is not technically death by venom toxicity.
Anaphylactic shock is an extreme allergic response to a foreign material, and this condition is fatal unless proper medical treatment is administered in time. Those with an allergy to Hymenoptera venom (bees, wasps and ants) are at high risk of experiencing anaphylaxis following one or a few stings. It is often assumed that most people are not allergic to arthropod venom, and therefore, most people are not at risk of anaphylaxis following bee or wasp stings, but this is not exactly the case. While some people are born with a sensitivity to certain arthropod venoms, those who are not can develop a sensitivity to venom in response to repeated stings, but others may become less sensitive with each sting sustained. It is not known why repeated stings cause some people to develop an allergy to venom while others become more tolerant of it, but those who have experienced a progressive worsening of envenomation symptoms with each successive Hymenoptera sting should visit an allergy specialist or immunologist for proper testing.
People who do not have a venom allergy can die in response to numerous stings inflicted by swarming wasps and bees. Wasp swarms are particularly dangerous, as each individual wasp inflicts stings repeatedly. Some experts believe that the rate of annual arthropod-related fatalities in the US may be higher than reported. For example, a small number of deaths that have officially been attributed to heat stroke or heart attacks may have been caused by arthropod envenomations, and some fatal car accidents may occur in response to drivers sustaining arthropod stings.
Have you ever sustained a painful spider bite?