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Keywords:

  • bee venom allergy;
  • beekeepers;
  • venom immunotherapy;
  • skin tests;
  • specific IgE;
  • specific IgG

Background

Beekeepers are strongly exposed to honey bee stings and therefore at an increased risk to develop IgE-mediated allergy to bee venom.

Objective

We wondered whether bee venom-allergic beekeepers were different from normally exposed bee venom-allergic patients with regard to clinical and immunological parameters as well as their response to venom immunotherapy.

Method

Among the 459 bee venom-allergic patients seen over the 5 year period 1987–91, 62 (14%) were beekeepers and 44 (10%) family members of beekeepers. These two groups were compared with 101 normally exposed bee venom-allergic patients matched with the allergic beekeepers for age and sex, regarding clinical parameters, skin sensitivity, specific IgE and IgG antibodies to bee venom as well as safety and efficacy of venom immunotherapy.

Results

As expected, allergic beekeepers had been stung most frequently before the first allergic reaction. The three groups showed a similar severity of allergic symptoms following bee stings and had an equal incidence of atopic diseases. Allergic beekeepers showed higher levels of bee venom-specific serum IgG, lower skin sensitivity and lower levels of bee venom specific serum IgE than bee venom-allergic control patients. A negative correlation between number of stings and skin sensitivity as well as specific IgE was found in allergic beekeepers and their family members, while the number of stings was positively correlated with specific IgG in these two groups. Venom immunotherapy was equally effective in the three groups, but better tolerated by allergic beekeepers than the two other groups. The majority of allergic beekeepers continued bee-keeping successfully under the protection of venom immunotherapy.

Conclusion

The lower level of sensitivity in diagnostic tests and the better tolerance of immunotherapy in allergic beekeepers is most likely related to the high level of specific IgG in this group.