Venom That Heals: How a Swarm of Bees Saved One Woman’s Life

Photo via Flickr (Umberto Salvagnin | CC BY 2.0)

For three days, she was in pain. Then, she wasn’t.

“I had been living in this… I call it a brown-out because it’s like you’re walking around in a half-coma all the time with the inflammation of your brain from the Lyme. My brain just came right out of that fog. I thought: I can actually think clearly for the first time in years.”

With a now-clear head, Ellie started wondering what had happened. So she did what anyone else would do: Google it. Disappointingly, her searches turned up very little. But she did find one small 1997 study by scientists at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, who’d found that melittin killed Borrelia. Exposing cell cultures to purified melittin, they reported that the compound completely inhibited Borrelia growth. When they looked more closely, they saw that shortly after melittin was added, the bacteria were effectively paralysed, unable to move as their outer membranes were under attack. Soon after, those membranes began to fall apart, killing the bacteria.

Convinced by her experience and the limited research she found, Ellie decided to try apitherapy, the therapeutic use of materials derived from bees.

Her bees live in a “bee condo” in her apartment. She doesn’t raise them herself; instead, she mail orders, receiving a package once a week. To perform the apitherapy, she uses tweezers to grab a bee and press it gently where she wants to be stung. “Sometimes I have to tap them on the tush a little bit,” she says, “but they’re usually pretty willing to sting you.”

She started on a regimen of ten stings a day, three days a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Three years and several thousand stings later, Ellie seems to have recovered miraculously. Slowly, she has reduced the number of stings and their frequency – just three stings in the past eight months, she tells me (and one of those she tried in response to swelling from a broken bone, rather than Lyme-related symptoms). She keeps the bees around just in case, but for the past year before I talked to her, she’d mostly done just fine without them.

Christie Wilcox on Ellie Lobel, a woman with Lyme disease whose health has recovered after being attacked by a swarm of Africanised bees, in a March 2015 article in Mosaic. Lobel now works with a bee farm and has a business selling bee products, using the proceeds to support bee preservation efforts and Lyme disease research.

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