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How hikers can avoid a bee attack, and what to do if it happens

PHOENIX – Recent bee attacks have turned normal summer outings into a deadly encounters.

Last month, a 22-year-old Louisiana man died after being stung more than 1,000 times while hiking in Usery Mountain Park in Mesa. Alex Bestler was walking with a friend when bees attacked. Bestler’s friend was able to escape the bees by running into a nearby building.

The same week, a 51-year-old Phoenix man was taken to the hospital with respiratory distress after having an allergic reaction to bees, according to NBC 12 News.

Africanized honey bees, among the most dangerous, are found in Arizona, according to the Utah County Beekeepers Association website. The bees, often called killer bees because of their relentless and dangerous nature, build hives in backyards, trees in bloom, under rocks and crevices.

Phoenix Park Ranger Elizabeth Smith said bee attacks usually happen when people move into their territory.

“Bees are not out looking for us,” Smith said. “It’s a bee’s job is to protect its hive and it’s queen, so perhaps there’s a hive that’s near a trail. You’re walking by it and something aggravates them.”

Hikers can take precautions. Smith advised how to avoid a bee attack and what to do if it happens to you.

Dress correctly before you step outside

If you’re going on a hike, don’t wear the things that attract bees, like dark colors, jewelry or other shiny objects. Wear unscented lotion or sunscreen.

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Turn off the music before you get stung

People who wear headphones on a trail are distracted from noticing their surrounding, including nearby bee hives.

“You’re hiking and if you got your headphones on…you might not be hearing the signs,” Smith said. “Bees will generally give you a warning. There’ll be a light buzzing around your head.

Perhaps they bump against you. They’re kind of saying. ‘Hey.’ If you feel something like that you need to stop, kind of evaluate and walk away.”

Run, and keep running

Being in good shape can save you if bees attack. Try to outrun the bees or get to shelter. Bees usually drop their pursuit after a quarter mile to a half mile, Smith said.

“You can’t really zigzag on a trail so just run straight. Just keep running,” Smith said. “You might get stung by one or two or three” or even up to 50 bees, she added, but it’s better than being overwhelmed by the entire hive.

One more thing: jumping into a pond, lake or river will not help. Bees simply wait for people to surface.

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Krandall Brantley/ Cronkite News

Hikers walk a trail in South Mountain Park. Phoenix park rangers advise hikers to watch out for bees, who may attack if they feel threatened.