Complications of wasp stings kill 3 in Manitoba this summer

Manitoba’s chief medical examiner has confirmed three people have died of complications from or reactions to wasp stings in Manitoba so far this summer.

Mild winter and wet spring have led to influx of wasps: Taz Stuart

Manitoba’s chief medical examiner confirms three people died of complications or reactions caused by wasps stings in Manitoba so far this summer. (John P. Ashmore/Shutterstock)

The city's former top entomologist says Winnipeggers should take precautions around wasps after Manitoba's chief medical examiner confirmed three people have died of complications from or reactions to wasp stings in the province so far this summer.

Taz Stuart, who now works at Poulin's Pest Control, said the company has seen a 35 per cent jump in calls for wasp nest removal this year over last summer's numbers.
Taz Stuart with Poulin's Pest Control Services says the company has seen a 35 per cent jump in calls for wasp nest removal this year over last summer's numbers. (CBC)

"Wasps have had a banner year," said Stuart. "They are a beneficial insect but it's this time of year when they're looking for those carbohydrates, those sugary substances that people may [have] in their backyards or out.

"They're noticing them being a little bit more aggressive looking for those alternate food sources because their natural food sources are dwindling as fall is getting closer."

Numbers released by the chief medical examiner's office show the number of deaths — which all happened in July — is unusual.

Over the last 15 years, the province saw one death in 2014, one in 2012, another lone case in 2008, and two in 2002.
Katherine Zinger had a severe reaction to a wasp sting that sent her to hospital. (CBC)

In the 25 years he's spent in the bug business, Stuart said he has never heard of so many wasp-related deaths in a single season.

"I was personally surprised to hear that. That's a big number," he said. "It shows that if you don't know if you're hyper allergic to wasps stings, you should be carrying the defence — an EpiPen. It will save your life if you happen to get over stung or have an allergic reaction to a wasp sting." 

Katherine Zinger had a severe reaction to a wasp sting that sent her to hospital in August. 

"It just seemed like a normal wasp sting in the beginning," Zinger said, but the next day, it was swollen and she started to feel ill.
Katherine Zinger developed a skin infection after she was stung by a wasp, causing swelling. (Katherine Zinger)

Her mother took her to Victoria Hospital, where she was given IV antibiotics for cellulitis — her skin had become infected after the sting.

Zinger was told to take antihistamines next time she's stung. She already carries an EpiPen for another issue, which could also help in future.

"I'm OK. Before I wasn't scared at all, but now I'm a bit more jumpy just because I don't want to get such a bad reaction."

Stuart blames the mild winter and wet spring, followed by a dry summer, for the number of wasps this season.

"Generally speaking, we had a good start to the season for them," he said. "So you're now seeing these larger wasp colonies going out and being more aggressive than normal."

And it's going to get worse before it gets better, Stuart said, explaining wasps generally get more aggressive as summer turns to fall.

Treat nests at night

"The sun is getting lower in the sky, the temperatures are changing and they get more aggressive trying to find alternative food sources other than their natural nectar and flowers that are disappearing," he said. "They know the end of the season is coming, so they're trying to get as much food and supplies to try and survive the winter."

For those who find nests in and around their property, it's best to treat a nest at night, when the majority of wasps will be inside, Stuart said. Ground nests are best treated by carefully putting a dust or a powder directly into the hole, he said.

As for reducing the risk of getting stung, it's best to be calm and cool around wasps, Stuart said.

"I always see people jumping around and swinging their arms and that's probably the worst thing that you can do, because if the wasp gets afraid, it releases an alarm pheromone and then try to sting you and when it does release that pheromone, other wasps will come and try to sting you as well," he said. "Try to calmly and carefully remove yourself out of the area or remove the sugary food source."

It's too soon to say what next year's wasp numbers will look like because their numbers depend on what kind of weather the province sees between now and then, Stuart said.
The city's former top entomologist is warning Winnipeggers to take precautions around wasps after Manitoba's chief medical examiner confirmed three people have died of complications or reactions caused by wasps stings in the province so far this summer. 1:50

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