- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Newly published research in the journal Toxicon indicates "No, they're not."
"A survey on 5115 beekeepers and 121 patients treated with bee venom by an apitherapy clinic in the Hubei province, the epicenter of COVID-19 in China, reported that none of the beekeepers developed symptoms associated with COVID-19, the new and devastating pandemic. The hypothesis that immunity to bee venom could have a preventive effect was expressed and the authors of the Chinese survey suggested that the next step should be animal experiments on monkeys."
That's the opening paragraph in the research article, "Beekeepers Who Tolerate Bee Stings are Not Protected against SARS-CoV-2 Infections," published last month in the open-access journal.
The authors, German scientists Heidrun Männle, Jutta Hübner, and Karsten Münstedt, set out to explore the hypothesis of beekeeper immunity to the deadly virus. They asked all German beekeepers to complete an assessment form "which would summarize their experiences with COVID-19."
They found that two beekeepers died from COVID, and 45 were affected. One had been a beekeeper for 10 years and had no underlying health issues. He had developed "a level of tolerance to the effects of bee stings," they wrote. Not much information was available on the second beekeeper.
"The study shows that beekeepers are not immune to infections caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2," they summarized. "Especially, our data do not support the hypothesis that beekeepers are not affected by SARS-CoV-2 due to their exposure to bee stings and the associated immunity. The severity of the disease was not influenced by various variables like how long they had been a beekeeper, total number of bee stings received, number of bee stings received in the year 2020 and potentially allergic reactions to bee stings. However, the reaction to a bee sting (none versus mild swelling versus strong swelling) influenced the severity of two of the symptoms of a SARS-CoV-2 infection, namely exhaustion and sore throat pain, all of which were more pronounced in beekeepers who reported being more sensitive to bee stings. Beekeepers with less or a minimal reaction to bee stings were less likely to suffer from severe symptoms."
So, bottom line, their results "did not confirm the findings of the Chinese study." But there's this....
"However," the authors added, "since the antiviral effects of bee venom have been found in several studies, we cannot exclude that there could be a direct preventive or alleviating effect when bee venom is administered during the infection."
"The question why 121 patients of apitherapy clinic treated with bee venom did not develop symptoms associated with COVID-19 cannot be answered by our study," the authors acknowledged. "There could be a direct preventive or alleviating effect when bee venom is administered during the infection. In retrospect it would have been interesting to assess the time intervals between string exposure, onset of disease symptoms or contact to infected people."
Note that many questions are neither answered nor explored, and that this study was published before the development and arrival of vaccines.