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Wasp 1

Introduction to Yellow Jacket stings


Yellow jackets are:

  • #1 cause of severe allergic sting reactions in North America and Europe
  • Aggressive and will sting for no apparent reason (only females sting)
  • Scientifically named Vespula, in the family Vespidae (like hornets and wasps) and order Hymenoptera
  • Are in greater numbers where there are milder winters and during the late summer and fall (however, in 2006 there was a 10-fold spike in the number of yellow jackets in Fairbanks, Alaska!)
  • Found in urban, suburban, meadows and forests
  • Use wood pulp to build their nests in logs, fences, under rocks or in the ground (I even recovered one from an attic!) The nests are in comb layers with multiple cells in each layer.
  • Have a stout body banded with yellow (or white), a slim waist and dark wings
  • Have a very fine, needle like barbed stinger (can sting more than once and not die!) although some species can leave the stinger in the skin like a honey bee.  The “stinger” is a modified ovipositor (organ used for laying eggs).
  • Are scavengers seeking food at picnics, trash cans and dumpsters?

Yellow jacket stings are:

  • Capable of causing local reactions with burning, pain swelling and redness related to multiple venom components (histamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, kinins).  Some venom components can cause toxic reactions with neurologic complications.
  • Capable of causing severe allergic reactions related to protein enzymes.  Antigen 5 is the common yellow jacket allergen Ves v 5.  There are similar cross reacting allergens in the other vespids such as yellow and white-faced hornets.  There is partial cross-reactivity with wasp and no cross reactivity with honey bee or fire ants.

If you have been stung and experienced an allergic reaction that was more than a typical local skin reaction, see us at Family Allergy & Asthma Care of Montana.   There is effective treatment for those who have experienced significant allergic reactions.  If you were just given an EpiPen or Auvi-Q epinephrine injector and told to “be careful,” you are being under-treated!

This information is solely for informational purposes and not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional.

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