Every fall season, rural-nesting wasps, particularly yellow jackets, abandon their nests in order to invade residential areas. This occurs because insect food sources become scarce within the natural environment during the fall, forcing wasps to swarm through neighborhoods in search of human food scraps in dumpsters, trash bins, on picnic tables and many other areas. This is why the rate of wasp sting incidents increases during the fall each year, especially in the northeast where the more rapid onset of colder fall and winter temperatures tend to drive wasp scavenging behaviors more aggressively than in warmer southern regions of the US.

For most people, sustaining a few wasp stings will only result in short-lived stinging pain and swelling, but a few sensitive individuals can suffer extreme allergic reactions from wasp stings. This summer, one man suffered a stroke after sustaining a single wasp sting on his leg. Initially, doctors did not believe that a stroke could be caused by one wasp sting, but after conducting a bit of research, the doctors that examined the recent stroke victim found many other case reports describing sting-related strokes.

A stroke results when a part of a person’s brain becomes deprived of much needed blood flow, usually as a result of a blood clot or a leaky blood vessel. According to Dr. Michael DeGeorgia, the doctor who treated the recent stroke victim, a wasp sting’s effect on the body could lead to stroke in multiple ways. For example, wasp venom contains certain compounds that cause blood vessels to constrict, which may lead to a stroke when vessels in the brain constrict in response to a wasp sting. Some compounds in wasp venom are even “prothrombotic,” meaning they cause blood clots. People who have irregular heartbeats caused by atrial fibrillation are already at a higher-than-normal risk of stroke due to the clotting that results from blood pooling in the heart. People with this condition are at a particularly high risk of stroke if they sustain a wasp sting. Those with an allergy to wasp venom are also at a higher risk of stroke after sustaining a sting, as an allergic reaction to venom causes blood pressure to drop, which could prevent blood from flowing to all parts of the brain. An autopsy performed on the recent stroke victim who sustained a wasp sting before he died revealed that blood vessels in his brain were constricted, which likely resulted from vasoconstrictive compounds in wasp venom.

Have you ever been tested for allergies to insect venoms?