When a Taiwanese woman—identified as He, her last name—started experiencing extreme pain and swelling in her eye, she went to the hospital—where doctors discovered four bees living in her eyelid.
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A 'freak occurrence'
According to He, the pain began while she was participating in the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day. "I was visiting and tidying a relative's grave with my family," she said, noting that she "was squatting down and pulling out weeds."
That's when she felt an irritation in her eye that she thought was sand, so she washed her eye out with clean water. Hours later, her eye was extremely swollen and she was in intense pain, and she was unable to stop tears from coming out of her eye. He then went to Fooyin University Hospital.
Hung Chi-ting, an ophthalmologist at Fooyin, examined He's eye and discovered something strange. "I saw something that looked like insect legs, so I pulled them out under a microscope slowly, and one at a time without damaging their bodies."
Inside He's eyelid were four bees known as Halictidae, or "sweat bees," which are small bees about a quarter of an inch in length—roughly half the size of a yellow jacket. Sweat bees are found in gardens all over the world, and while they primarily feed on pollen and nectar, they also require salt that is produced by human and animal glands and is commonly found in sweat and tears.
The bees were still alive when Hung extracted them from He's eye and, according to Chi-ting, had she rubbed her eyes while the bees were still in there, they could have ruptured and caused a serious infection that might have led to vision loss. "Thankfully she came to the hospital early, otherwise I might have had to take her eyeball out to save her life," Chi-ting said.
According to Matan Shelomi, an associate professor of entomology at National Taiwan University, He's situation was very unique. "To my knowledge, this is the first case of a bee or a wasp getting caught in a part of a person's anatomy, as far as I know," he said. Shelomi added, "I'm sure the sweat bees got by the eye and got squished between the eye and eyelid. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Shelomi added that this was a "freak occurrence" and not something people should worry about. "The woman will be fine. The bees will be fine," he said. "This is not something that people need to concern themselves with. I don't expect we'll ever see it again" (May, New York Times, 4/10; Bella, Washington Post, 4/10; Hafner, USA Today, 4/10).
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