Warming seen having immunological consequences

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Health) - The first two bee sting-related deaths were reported in Fairbanks, Alaska in the summer of 2006, which researchers suspect was a consequence of global warming; and they predict that this is just the beginning.

Honeybees and yellow jackets were rare in the area until the past few years. “The yellow jacket population has increased tenfold and the first two sting-related deaths were reported,” Dr. Jeffrey Demain of the University of Alaska in Anchorage told attendees here this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Demain discussed the effects global warming has had in Alaska, which include an increase in the insect population and associated vector-borne illnesses. There has been a 50-percent increase in sting-related emergencies and, now, the first reports of anaphylactic reactions to bee stings.

“The public is not prepared to handle this,” he told Reuters Health.

The temperature is projected to increase nearly 6 degrees Celsius between now and 2100, but the actual increase is way ahead of the projections,” Demain said. The insect population will increase, accordingly, he added.

Lepidopterism is another new allergic illness being reported. This is an allergic reaction to caterpillars, which produces the usual spectrum of allergic responses, including the possibility of anaphylaxis.

In sensitive individuals, direct contact with caterpillar “hairs” causes a burning pain and a grid-like pattern of punctures. Local swelling, lymphadenopathy, vesicles and hemorrhagic bullae, fever, headache, shock and anaphylaxis may ensue.

Warmer weather has caused a northward shift in overwintering habits, which have increased 63 percent in 35 Lepidoptera species studied in northern Europe in the past decade, Demain said.

The Alaskan researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of three databases containing health records of patients seeking treatment for “envenomation.” They found a three- to four-fold increase between 1999 and 2006.

While the figures do not provide proof of causation between global warming and insect-related immunological illnesses, “the data support our suspicions,” he said.

“The allergist has to take on the role of go-between between the scientists and the public,” he said, explaining the recent increases in sting-related illnesses and other insect-borne health consequences.