Can a bee sting kill you?

Bee stings are a relatively common occurrence for anyone living in places that are known to have bee hives, like tropical areas, especially during the swarming season early in the Spring that lasts for weeks [1]. Though the chances of getting stung is still very low at 5 to 7.5% for most of the population, the experience of getting stung is much higher if you’re a beekeeper at 32% [2]; it is still better to know more about bees. 

This begs the question, can a bee sting kill you, or how many stings are needed to kill a person?

Bee stings can be dangerous and potentially lethal for very few people with severe allergic reactions to bees, which can cause anaphylactic shock leading to death. However, for the vast majority of the population, a single bee sting will not kill you because an average adult can handle more than 1,000 stings. In comparison, 500 stings can already kill a child. 

CDC also listed contact with hornets, wasps, and bees as a cause of death, with almost 70 deaths per year in the US. However, while it is possible to die from bee stings, it is also incredibly rare.

Now, let us learn more about bee stings and how it kills a person.

What chemicals are in a bee sting?

bees flying into a beehive

It is important to note that not all bees will sting you because only female or worker bees have stingers in their bodies. Male or drone bees don’t have stingers attached to their abdomen. Also, only the honeybee specie dies after stinging. The rest of the bee population has a smooth stinger that they can use repeatedly, but most bees are peaceful and rarely sting.

If a honeybee stings a person, it gets stuck in the skin because a honeybee’s stinger is barbed and can stay in place. After a sting, the honeybee will forcefully try to pull it out, resulting in parts of its abdomen bursting, leaving the stinger, venom sac, and parts of its abdomen still attached to the skin of the victim. 

The honeybee venom, which causes the allergic reaction, contains various proteins, including phospholipase A2, hyaluronidase, and acid phosphatase [3].

Aside from the mixture of proteins in the honeybee venom, the bee also releases alarm pheromones which will draw more bees to your location that can quickly escalate, so if you’re stung, it is best to run away first and find a safe place. 

The pheromones that bees release after a bee sting also don’t easily wash off in the water, so other bees can still detect them even if you wash them with water or you jump into a body of water.

If you‘d like to learn more about bees, you should also read How do bees hear? And How do you find the queen bee?

Can a bee sting kill you?

If you’ve ever been stung by a honeybee, then you know that it hurts, itches, and swells. However, it is worse for honeybees since they will die immediately because their stingers will be left on your skin [4]

So, unless it is absolutely necessary to sting you in defense of the colony, the hive, or themselves, honeybees will not readily sting you without any reason. This means that unless you’re a beekeeper, don’t mess with bees.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 708 deaths from hornets, wasps, and bee stings from 2011 to 2020, or 70 deaths each year from stings [5]. Though the number is relatively small compared to other diseases like heart attacks (697,000 deaths every year) [6] or even falling (64 deaths for every 100,000 older adults) [7], one death is still too many.

Since it is extremely rare to die from bee stings, it means that this risk is only possible for a certain group of people, particularly those with extreme allergic reactions from stings, because a bee sting can quickly escalate to anaphylactic shock within minutes. 

How many bee stings before it kills you?

beekeeper taking out beehive

Unless you are highly allergic to bee stings, you should not be worried about fatality from a single bee. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Agricultural Research Service, an average adult human can withstand up to 10 stings per pound of body weight. 

So, assuming you are an average American weighing 180 lbs without any bee allergy, it will need around 1,800 stings to kill you, which is already an incredible number of bees stinging you. On the other hand, it will require fewer stings to kill a child, so it is still important to remind kids to be careful if you’re a parent.

However, it is essential to note that there are also tens of thousands of bees living in a bee colony, so there is still a probability of reaching a thousand stingers, so it is still best to not disturb them.

Amazingly, the most number of bee stings sustained by a human who survived after getting stung, not just once or twice, but a staggering 2,443 stings by Johannes Relleke in Zimbabwe on January 28, 1962, according to the Guinness World Records [8]. However, I doubt anyone will try to beat that record soon.

If you don‘t know a lot about keeping bees, you should also read What is a queen excluder?

What should you do if you’ve been stung by a bee?

Since bee stings can potentially be deadly for some people, it is best to be prepared and know what to do if it happens. Here are some things to remember if you’re stung by a bee.

1. Stay calm and retreat to a safe place.

If ever you’ve been stung by a bee, it is possible to attract more bees that will also attack you due to the alarm pheromones released. So you must first calmly retreat to a safe place, like in your house or car, to avoid more bees going after you.

It is also important to avoid diving into the water because bees are known to swarm over bodies of water even if the victim is submerged. They will continue to sting if ever you go out of the water, increasing the likelihood of stinging or drowning.

2. Remove the sting immediately and wash with soap and water.

Once you’re in a safe place, you need to immediately remove the stings attached to your skin using your fingernails. Even though the bee is already dead, the venom sac can still continuously inject poison into your body, increasing its severity. 

You also need to wash the areas where you’ve been stung with soap and water to lessen the alarm pheromones that are still detectable to other bees. Then apply a cold compact to reduce the swelling and relieve pain. 

However, suppose you’ve been stung on your head or neck several times. In that case, you should go to an emergency room and seek immediate medical assistance.

3. You may take over-the-counter drugs to relieve the pain and swelling.

If you’re allergic to bee stings, you should always have an epinephrine shot ready for an emergency. You can also use other over-the-counter drugs or painkillers that can relieve pain and swelling. 

4. Seek medical assistance if needed.

Even though there is only a small group of people who has a severe allergic reaction to bee stings, it is still better to be safe than sorry. So, if the allergic response becomes worse, then immediately bring them to the nearest emergency room.

You should also take a look at Why do beekeepers use smoke? And Do bees have teeth?

If you‘d like to learn more about wasps, you should read Do wasps have teeth? And Do wasps have ears?


Bee stings are painful but are generally not deadly for most of the US population, since humans can even withstand more than thousands of stings before they become lethal. Unfortunately, it can be fatal for a specific group of people with a severe allergic reaction to bee stings, where even a single sting can quickly escalate to anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal.

Though bee fatalities are still generally low compared to other leading causes of death, it is still best to be ready and prepared. If you have an allergic reaction to bee stings, it is best to always bring an epinephrine shot. But to be safe, it is better to leave the bees alone.


[1] – Swarming (honey bee). (2022, July 9). In Wikipedia.

[2] – Ludman, S. W., & Boyle, R. J. (2015). Stinging insect allergy: current perspectives on venom immunotherapy. Journal of Asthma and Allergy, 8, 75-86.

[3] – Zolfagharian, H., Mohajeri, M., & Babaie, M. (2015). Honey Bee Venom (Apis mellifera) Contains Anticoagulation Factors and Increases the Blood-clotting Time. Journal of Pharmacopuncture, 18(4), 7-11.

[4] – Bee sting. (2022, September 27). In Wikipedia.

[5] – QuickStats: Number of Deaths from Hornet, Wasp, and Bee Stings, Among Males and Females — National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2000–2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:649. DOI:

[6] – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. About Multiple Cause of Death, 1999–2020. CDC WONDER Online Database website. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2022. Accessed February 21, 2022.

[7] – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS)

[8] – Most bee stings survived. Guinness World Records. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2022, from