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Bonnie Burgess, a Registered Nurse, demonstrates how a venom immunotherapy shot is given. Burgess is demonstrating on Cathy Petrusek, also an RN. Looking on is Dr. Joseph Petrusek, an ear, nose, throat and allergy specialist. DICK MASON / The Observer
Injectible epinephrine pens, immunotherapy can take sting out of life-threatening situation
As spring roars into full bloom an increasing number of people in Northeast Oregon are asking themselves the following question:
Am I at risk for a life threatening reaction to a bee, hornet or wasp sting?
The answer is yes if you have have ever had any of 11 symptoms of a “systemic’’ reaction after a bee, hornet of wasp sting, according to Dr. Joseph Petrusek of La Grande, an ear, nose, throat and allergy specialist. These telltale symptoms are:
• a metallic taste or tingling in the mouth
• swelling of the tongue, lips or throat
• difficulty breathing or swallowing
• abdominal cramps.
• vomiting or diarrhea
• a rash or itchy skin
• coughing or wheezing
• loss of consciousness
• increased heart rate
• dizaines or sudden weakness
Anyone who has had one of these symptoms is at risk of experiencing a life threatening reaction the next time they are stung by a bee, hornet or wasp, Petrusek said. These individuals are urged to see a doctor so they can be tested to see if they are allergic and what steps can be taken to prevent them from having potentially life threatening reactions in the future.
Doctors often prescribe injectible epinephrine pens for patients at risk of a life threatening reaction to an insect sting. These spring loaded plastic instruments make it easy for one to quickly inject epinephrine, a medication which modifies allergic reactions to the point that they are less likely to be life threatening. Epinephrine pens are available only by prescription.
The western yellow jacket is among the yellow jackets most commonly encountered by people in the western United States.
Some people at risk for life threatening bee, hornet or wasp stings choose to become desensitized to the venom they are allergic to by receiving venom immunotherapy. This treatment allows one’s body to build up immunity so it can tolerate a bee, hornet or wasp sting without “overreacting.’’
Petrusek has been providing venom immunotherapy for many years.
It involves a series of injections which introduce tiny amounts of venom into one’s body. The amount is gradually increased over time to help one’s immune system develop a tolerance to the venom proteins. This process is continued until until a person’s body has enough immunity to be able to tolerate a sting without overreacting, Petrusek said.
The first phase of venom immunotherapy takes between three to six months. Venom protein is injected at increasingly higher levels during this time between once and twice a week. After this time a maintenance phase begins. Eventually patients will need only one venom treatment a month.
Petrusek said venom immunotherapy is 95 to 97 percent effective in reducing the risk of a life threatening reaction among people who are systemically allergic to the sting of a type of bee, hornet or wasp.
People have received venom immunization therapy still need to carry epinephrin pens with them because there still will be be small chance that they could have a life threatening reaction, Petrusek said.
Anyone suspecting that they are having a systemic reaction to a bee, hornet or wasp sting is urged to tell those around them know so they can know is happening and provide assistance. It is critical to do this immediately since often during a systemic reaction one’s tongue and throat will swell, making it very difficult to talk.
“Yell, ‘I’ve been stung. I can barely speak,...It is not a time to be shy, draw attention to yourself,’’ said Cathy Petrusek, an Registered Nurse who works in the office of husband Dr. Joseph Petrusek.
Letting people known you are experiencing a reaction is particularly important if you do not have a epinephrine pen with you. Joseph Petrusek explained that someone else might have one they can use to inject epinephrine in an emergency situation.
People who would like additional information about the use of epinephrine pens or venom immunotherapy will be able to obtain it from Petrusek Saturday at the Community Health Fair in La Grande. The fair will run from 8 a.m. to noon at the Blue Mountain Conference Center.