Cadillac Allergist, Patient Weigh-In on Nationwide Venom Allergy Treatment Shortage

"It’s affecting us, our patients, and affecting patients throughout Northern Michigan."    

A nationwide shortage of a venom treatment that can prevent deadly allergic reactions to bee stings.

Allergist across the country use small doses of bee venom, particularly from yellow jackets, to prevent anaphylactic shock.

One of two North American manufacturers has stopped making it.

It’s a problem for those who rely on it to survive a bee sting.

9&10 News/Fox 32’s Cody Boyer and photojournalist Derrick Larr met with an allergist and a long-time patient to see how this shortage affects them.

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"It’s severe,” said Tamara Barnes, remembering a time when she was stung. “My throat will close up and I will no longer…I cannot breathe."

Quite understandably, Tamara has taken venom shots for 10 years.

“I’ve been stung several times since I’ve found out and I have to give myself an Epi-Pen injection right away,” Barnes said. “I would probably die."

That’s where venom therapy comes in.

“As far as me being comfortable being outside, even,” Barnes said. “There was a long time where I would just constantly look under every table that you see when you go outside to make sure there was no wasps or anything."

Allergist and immunologist Dr. Martin Dubravec from Cadillac said the shortage could prove deadly to patients.

“I wouldn’t call it an option,” Dr. Dubravec said. “It’s really mandatory because epinephrine can be used to try to stop an allergic reaction. This actually prevents it. We expect to run out within the next 30 to 60 days."

Dr. Dubravec says approximately 150 patients die each year from anaphylactic shock so if you find yourself in an examination room having been stung by a bee, getting these treatments is essential.

“This takes your reaction risk, risk of reaction from 50 to 65-percent each time you get stung down to under 10-percent or less,” Dr. Dubravec said. “In over 90-percent of patients after a course of allergy shots, we feel that they will do as well off of their shots as when they were on them for 10 years or longer, so we consider it to be curative in many respects.”

Until a solution can be found, patients like Tamara may see smaller doses each visit.

She says each shot is worth it.

“I’m more confident in doing what I can do,” Barnes said.