PATHETIC: How wasps killed an Iowa mail carrier

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Mail carriers encounter mean dogs so often it’s become a cliche, but it was a nest of wasps that claimed the life of an Iowa mail carrier.

Dwayne Kriegel was depositing mail in an outdoor box last week, just as he has almost every day for the past 30 years, when his right hand was stung multiple times by wasps. He died Tuesday.

The Grinnell mail carrier was allergic to the venom wasps deliver through their stingers, and carries an EpiPen with him. But he likely couldn’t get it open after the wasps stung him on Aug. 22, his wife told Des Moines news station WHO-TV.

The life-saving medication was found lying beside him, unopened.

Kriegel, who went into anaphylactic shock and suffered a heart attack, was able to get to his cellphone and call his wife, Tammy, before he lost consciousness. She called 911, and emergency responders were able to shock him back to life. He was airlifted to a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, where he died Tuesday.

“He was without oxygen for 14 minutes, and when that occurs your brain swells,” Tammy Kriegel told WHO. “It was irreversible damage where he was never going to wake up.”

Her husband, a “kind, humble man,” was an organ donor, Tammy Kriegel said, but she also hopes his legacy will live on in another important way: as a reminder of the hidden dangers of wasps.

“I need everybody to practice caution in their mailboxes, with their children around their plants,” she said. “You don’t know.”

Deaths from hornet, wasp and bee stings are increasing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said 1,109 people died from venomous stings from 2000 to 2017, at an average of about 62 a year. The number of deaths — about 80 percent of which were among men — ranged from 43 in 2001 to a high of 89 in 2017.

Bees, and to a lesser degree wasps, are important pollinators, so if they’re not a nuisance, it’s best not to disturb them. Hornets, though not pollinators, play an important role in the ecosystem and feed off nuisance insects.

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What you should know

Right now is peak time for yellow jackets, an aggressive wasp found throughout North America most often in the late summer or early fall. The most likely to sting of all wasps and hornets, they have yellow and black stripes and look like bees, but are hairless. They can live in colonies of 4,000 to 5,000 in nests, Sciencing.com reported. If they feel their nests are threatened, they’ll attack en masse.

Measuring about half an inch long, they often build nests in abandoned chipmunk or rodent burrows below ground, or beneath rocks, gutter splash blocks or landscape timbers, as well as in stone walls, crawlspaces, attics, and behind exterior siding of buildings.

Hornets are a type of wasp about an inch long. Typically black, they are one of the most aggressive types of wasp and can sting through clothing and protective gear. They also are territorial and will sting if they feel threatened. Their nests are usually found high in the air in protected areas, most are about the size of a basketball and they resemble paper-mache.

“Certain types of hornets, such as the bald-faced hornet, will protect its nest by employing two of its team to circle near the nest surveying the area for threats,” Sciencing reported. “Once these ‘watchmen’ feel their nest is in danger, they alert their team inside, and all attack as a united group.”

Paper wasps, which are also aggressive, are active throughout the spring, summer and fall months, and can grow to about an inch long. They have a reddish-brown body with yellow rings, long legs that dangle when they’re in flight and build hexagon-style nests in sheltered areas like tree limbs, chimneys,and support beams in attics, garages and barns.

The cicada killer wasp can grow to about 2 inches in length. The mating males in particular are highly aggressive, and can be easily disturbed. They feed off cicadas, and are most often found in hotter climates when cicadas are present in July and August.

How to control nuisance Bees, Wasps and Hornets

Nests can usually be left alone and safely removed in the late fall and winter, according to Colorado State University Extension Service. But if actively nesting wasps are a nuisance, insecticide is the best defense.

It’s best to apply the insecticide in the late evenings or during cool periods in the early mornings, before foragers have returned to the colony. A variety of products with fast-acting ingredients are available and should be applied directly to the nest, the Extension Service advises.

Yellow jacket control is more difficult. For one thing, their nests are often up to 1,000 feet from where they fly and their nests are difficult to find, according to the entomology department at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

Insecticide dust dispersed through a commercial bulb or bellows duster is an effective treatment if the opening to the nest can be located, but an alternative is to use a dry, empty liquid detergent bottle filled with a few inches of the dust. Dusts are more effective than aerosol insecticides.

It’s important to provide the treatment at night when most of the yellow jackets are in the nest and inactive. Approach the nest with caution, and don’t shine a flashlight into the entrance because they’ll fly toward it.

When treatment involves the use of a ladder, it’s best to call a professional exterminator, the University of Kentucky advises.

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