Apitherapy is an alternative acupuncture treatment that involves bee stings instead of needles. [Representational image]
Apitherapy is an alternative acupuncture treatment that involves bee stings instead of needles. [Representational image]Creative Commons.

An alternative acupuncture treatment, known as apitherapy, led to the death of a 55-year-old woman recently. She had been receiving the treatment about once a month for two years to cure her of tight muscles and stress.

The treatment involved the use of stings of live bees in place of needles. However, during one unfortunate session, the unnamed woman from Spain "developed wheezing, dyspnea, and sudden loss of consciousness immediately after a live bee sting," a report in the Journal of Investigation Allergology and Clinical Immunology said.

The woman was taken to a hospital and given adrenaline and antihistamines to stall the reaction, but she succumbed several weeks later after suffering from multiple organ failure.

Apitherapy, also known as "bee acupuncture", involves a professional placing a bee somewhere on a patient's body. The insect's head is pinched until its sting appears, and shortly after use, the bee dies.

Experts claim that the treatment is effective for treating various diseases and easing pain. "We've treated patients with dozens of diseases, from arthritis to cancer, all with positive results," a bee acupuncturist named Wang Menglin had told Australia's ABC News in 2013.

Apitherapy is the most popular in China and Korea. [Representational image.]
Apitherapy is the most popular in China and Korea. [Representational image.]Creative Commons.

The treatment, which is most popular in China and Korea, has been introduced in other places, too, despite little evidence of how effective it really is.

Scientists Paula Vazquez-Revuelta and Ricardo Madrigal-Burgaleta, from the Ramon y Cajal University Hospital in Spain, wrote about the woman who died: "Although some benefits of apitherapy have been reported, published evidence of its effectiveness and safety is limited."

The pair also said that "repeated exposure to the allergen was found to carry a greater risk of severe allergic reactions than in the general population."

They concluded: "The risks of undergoing apitherapy may exceed the presumed benefits, leading us to conclude that this practice is both unsafe and unadvisable."

In another review of apitherapy, by the scientific journal PLOS One, certain adverse effects were found to be extremely common. "Trivial skin reactions that usually resolve over several days to life-threatening severe immunological responses such as anaphylaxis" were revealed to be some of those adverse effects.

The outlet reported another case of apiculture fatality. A 65-year-old South Korean woman who died from the same treatment in 2011.