Bee keeper risks life despite deadly allergy

Joyce Jack. Pic: Malcolm McCurrach
Joyce Jack. Pic: Malcolm McCurrach
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TO bee or not to bee? That is the risky question facing Joyce Jack, a brave beekeeper with the ultimate work handicap – a deadly allergy to bee stings.

The 72-year-old told the News how she has twice been hospitalised after stings and now has to carry an emergency adrenalin injector.

But despite the risks, Mrs Jack has vowed to continue with her passion, which involves helping to train new beekeepers at Newbattle Abbey College in Dalkeith.

The beekeeper said the allergy causes her arms to swell and puts her at risk of going into anaphylactic shock every time she goes near the insects.

The retired businesswoman got a nasty shock when she was hospitalised for five days after being stung 18 months ago.

She said: “I had been stung before and did not have a very good reaction to it but I managed to keep it under control with antihistamines and cream, so there was never any problem from that point of view, but about a year-and-a-half ago I got stung badly and I was on my own.”

She managed to drive herself home but after two visits to her GP was sent to hospital where she was treated by a consultant – who ironically was also a beekeeper.

And she was unfortunate enough to be taken to hospital for a second time in October after being stung on the neck.

“There are certain things that attract bees and the second time I ended up in hospital I was due to get my hair cut and it was bothering me so I used hairspray,” she said. “This bee went straight to me and stung me on the neck.”

Mrs Jack was taken by ambulance to the ERI and joked that her GP still “has fits” because she keeps a hive in the garden.

Despite the danger, it has not put her off the “amazing creatures”. She added: “I have made up my mind – I’m not going to be controlled by this. I’ve just got to be very careful.”

Mrs Jack, and husband Peter, 73, are both keen bee enthusiasts and help novices through their basic exam in a course with the ­Newbattle Beekeepers Association at Newbattle Abbey College.

But her allergy has forced her to take a less risky role as secretary and treasurer of the association and she has to carry an adrenalin injector.

Fellow beekeeper Alasdair Joyce, 56, said a “significant number of beekeepers do become allergic when they start to keep bees”. He said: “You can become hypersensitive to bees and in some cases people have to give up keeping them.”