Over 90% of residents of the US report being stung by an insect before reaching adulthood. Most people are unable to accurately identify the insect responsible. Accurate identification is important to people who have an allergic reaction to an insect sting so they can avoid repeated stings. Allergists want to know the identity of the insect that caused the reaction as part of the patient education.
A group of scientists tested the ability of allergists and random individuals to recognize 4 types of stinging insects: honey bee, yellow jacket, paper wasp and hornet. Ninety percent of allergists and non-allergists correctly identified honey bees from pictures, but fewer than half correctly identified dried specimens. Allergists were better at identifying Hornets and Yellow jackets from pictures than non-allergists. In most cases, people were able to identify the insects from pictures with more accuracy than from dried specimens.
How does this affect allergy treatment? Many people with sting allergies fail to get a close look at the insect. Those that do may misidentify it. It is common practice for allergists to test a suite of insect venoms on patients with allergies. Cross reaction to venoms is common and this practice helps identify multiple allergies. The identity of the insect is not as important to the characterization of the allergy as it is to the education of the patient on avoiding future stings. This study suggests that the need for improvements to teaching identification of stinging insects.
*Troy W. Baker; Joseph P. Forester; Monica L. Johnson; Jeremy M. Sikora; Adrienne Stolfi & Mark C. Stahl. Stinging insect identification: Are the allergy specialists any better than their patients? Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. (2016) 1-4.