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BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Being stung by a bee would have most people rushing to hospital, expect at one Beijing clinic where patients queue up to be pricked into good health.
Bee sting therapy, which involves placing live bees on a patient's body at certain pressure points, dates back over 3,000 years in China and was considered legal in 2007.
It is similar to acupuncture in that it uses bees stingers instead of needles and the same principles, but the bees' toxin, which doctors say is a natural medicine, is essential, making the treatment like an injection.
Doctors at the Kang Tai Bee Clinic, a traditional Chinese medical facility in northeast Beijing, say the therapy has proved effective in curing diseases such as rheumatism and arthritis, as well as a list of other ailments.
"The bee therapy has an obvious effect on patients with bone and joint diseases," said Wang Jing, a doctor at the clinic.
"This treatment relies mainly on the bees' poison, which can help blood circulation, reduce inflammation and ease pain."
The bees used for the treatment are a hybrid of species from Italy and the Gulf, and are kept on the clinic grounds. Their 0.3 mm-long stings, which contain about 0.3 mg of toxin, make them suitable for the therapy, doctors say.
For the treatment, doctors use tweezers to pick up bees from the hive, placing them one by one on the pressure point of the painful area.
The bee then instinctively stings its "enemy" and dies. The stinger is then left in the body for several hours, and patients say it helps to ease their discomfort.
The doctors, who undergo strict training, decide how long the stinger should stay in body, and how many bees should be used in the treatment. At the very most, a patient can be stung more than a hundred times. At the very least, four or five times.
The center sees an average of 30 patients daily, while more than 50 can queue up during the weekend. Doctors say that the treatment has become so popular that they are considering expanding the clinic in the next year.
Some patients even travel long distances from remote areas of China to try out the unique treatment, which at around 120 yuan ($18), is much cheaper than most conventional medical treatments.
Han Lide, a patient suffering from an inflammation in the veins caused by diabetes, has been treated at the clinic seven times and insists the results are worth the initial discomfort.
"After I am stung by the bees, the pain is gone by the afternoon. My legs feel lighter. It becomes easier to walk and my legs do not feel swollen," he said.
Doctor say more than 90 percent of their patients have recovered or felt an improvement in their condition after receiving treatment.
Despite the pain, patients often continue the treatment for many years. Cai Shulan has used bees to treat her arthritis for five years.
"I couldn't move my shoulders before. I needed someone to help me get dressed. It was too painful to even put on clothes. After being treated here I feel fine and I am just like a normal person," she said.
Editing by Miral Fahmy