PRATER, Va. — A man was taken to a Bristol, Tenn., hospital Tuesday after he broke a leg while trying to escape stinging bees.
The Mercy Ambulance Service was dispatched 9 a.m. to a dirt road near Prater after a worker for a local mining or oil company, described as a man in his 30s, broke his left leg while running from bees, said EMT Tina Smitherman.
“He apparently got into some bees and was running to get away, but he tripped and fell,” she said. “He was running on level ground. The human body is a crazy thing. You can fall off a house and not get hurt, but fall down and break your leg. It often depends on how you land.”
The man was taken to Prater Elementary School where he was airlifted to Bristol Regional Medical Center in Tennessee. He had several stings, but his leg injury was the main reason for the airlift, Smitherman said.
Smitherman did not know whether the man had been chased by bees or another type of stinging insect, but Mike Harris of the Virginia Tech Extension Service in neighboring Tazewell County said yellow jackets are a likely culprit. Unlike wasps or bees, yellow jackets nest underground.
“They’re the land mine of stinging insects,” Harris said. “Yellow jackets are some of the most aggressive bees. They’re extremely territorial and extremely defensive. Depending on your immune system, they can be deadly.”
Since yellow jackets nest underground, a person often doesn’t know they are present until somebody has run a lawnmower over the nest or unwittingly disturbed them in some other way, Harris said.
When attacked by yellow jackets and other stinging insects, the only thing to do is separate yourself from them, Harris said. Some might follow a person into a car or house, but at least there are fewer bees to deal with. Yellow jacket nests can be killed off by spraying them with insecticide after dark; during the cooler evening hours, the bees are dormant and less likely to attack.
Honey bees are aggressive, too; especially if they think the hive’s queen is in danger, Harris said. The fact they nest above ground makes them easier to spot and avoid.
Aggressive stingers that occasionally makes headlines are the African or “killer” bees now seen in Texas. Harris said these African bees have been seen in Covington, Va., after they “hitched a ride” aboard railroad cars, but none have managed to settle in the state to the best of his knowledge. They have trouble tolerating cold weather.
“These cold winters are the best insecticide we can get,” he said.
Greg Jordan writes for the Bluefield (W.Va.) Daily Telegraph.